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Collision Avoidance Confusion

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The Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGs) cover the rules of navigation and lights and shapes that sailors need in order to avoid collision. However, this is a long document and you’ve got to read the whole thing and all the annexes, and then read the Coast Guard’s interpretation of these rules to truly understand what is expected of a sailor. Based on a number of questions from readers and our own observations, the editors at Practical Sailor recognized that as technology and watercraft have evolved, a few navigation rules pertaining to recreational boats could use further clarification. There are situations that the COLREGs do not describe well, and some rules that are so commonly misunderstood that they bear repeating. For the purposes of this article, rules cited are from the United States Coast Guard Navigation Rules International-Inland (publication COMDTINST M16672.2D). The rules referenced here are the international rules, and inland sailors should familiarize themselves with any inland variations, of which there are several.

Collision Avoidance Confusion

THE FUNDAMENTALS

In this report we’ll look at how we can resolve common right-of-way issues, particularly when more than one rule in the COLREGs apply. The main challenge in any right-of-way situation is determining which vessel is the privileged (stand-on) vessel, and which vessel is the burdened (give-way) vessel and therefore required to take any needed action. We’ll focus here on the rules that seem to create the most confusion.

Rule 2 | Responsibility. You are always responsible to do everything practical to minimize risk, especially to avoid a collision. It is never 100-percent the other guy’s fault.

Rule 5 | Look-out. You must maintain a look-out using multiple means, and you must apprise the risk of collision of all vessels as they become known to you. Nothing should be a surprise; you should always have the option to take action as early as possible.

Rule 6 | Safe Speed. Consider the conditions, including visibility, traffic, maneuverability, weather, and water depth. You must always have time and space to perform any necessary actions.

Rule 9 | Narrow Channels. This rule takes precedence over crossing rules and the vessel hierarchy described in Rule 18 (sail vs. power vs. fishing boat, etc.). Smaller vessels (sailboats too) should keep to the outside of ship channels and keep as far as practical to starboard.

Rule 13 | Overtaking. The passing vessel must give way to everything–unless it is a vessel that is not under command (NUC), which by definition is unable to maneuver. Overtaking includes crossing 22.5 degrees aft of the beam, not just from dead astern. Note that sailboat racing rules are a little different, but the COLREGs apply to all meetings between boats not engaged in a race.

Rule 14 | Head-on. When two power-driven vessels are meeting on reciprocal courses or nearly reciprocal courses, each shall alter course to starboard so they pass on the port side of each other. This is easier in the daylight, obviously, but at night familiarity with navigation lights takes on obvious importance.

Rule 15 | Crossing. In crossing situations under power, the vessel to starboard has right of way.

Rule 18 | Responsibilities Between Vessels. Only after the requirements of Rules 9 and 13 are satisfied do you consider the hierarchy of a burdened vessel as described above (not under command or NUC, restricted in her ability to maneuver or RAM, then fishing, sail, power, seaplane). Key point: A sailing vessel equipped with an auxiliary engine that is under power has the same burden of responsibility as a powerboat. The term “power-driven vessel” means any vessel powered by machinery. That includes a sailboat with sails hoisted with the engine running.

Rule 20 | Displaying shapes and lights. You must display the day shape or lights appropriate to your status (sail, power, engaged in fishing, restricted ability to maneuver, etc.) and you only have the status you display. However, Rule 2 and Rule 5 say you are responsible for observing the world around you. If a lobster boat appears to be hauling traps, we should treat it as if it were engaged in fishing.

There is a temptation to always give way, but the COLREGs are not about politeness. The rules are meant to promote maneuvering in a predictable manner. If we all give way, the “sidewalk shuffle” results at every meeting, which can be quite dangerous in close quarters. There is nothing wrong with giving way when you can make this obvious very early, but this “politeness” is no substitute for knowing what is expected of you.

Collision Avoidance Confusion

Blasts on the air horn are for close range communication, not expressing your annoyance. Unfortunately, most boaters don’t know the standard signals. The two most essential signals to commit to memory are collision risk (five short blasts) and a warning signal when there is limited visibility around an obstruction (one prolonged blast).

The horn can also be useful for alerting an inattentive watch. Most commonly, I have used the horn to wake someone up when I feel sure they don’t see me (a boat with a deck-sweeping genoa, for example) or are not paying attention (a boat steering erratically). Making way near a blind exit at a marina or near buildings that block visibility ahead are other common situations that call for a warning signal.

VHF is acceptable for communicating with commercial shipping, but is not a substitute for following COLREGs and is not always useful for avoiding collisions. Language barriers are a common problem, the bridge crew can be task-saturated, and other ships in the area may not follow the conversation or agree. Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Digital Selective Calling (DSC) have made it easier to identify and contact unknown vessels, but a call on VHF 13 (used for commercial ship-to-ship maneuvering) or VHF 16 is still the most common means of hailing another ship in your vicinity.

Collision Avoidance Confusion

Rule to Remember, #34: When vessels are in sight of one another, a power-driven vessel under way, when maneuvering as authorized or required by these rules, shall indicate that maneuver by the following signals on her whistle: one short blast to mean “I am altering course to starboard;” two short blasts to mean “I am altering my course to port;” three short blasts to mean “I am operating astern propulsion.”

WATCHKEEPING

Every close call I have ever had with another boat related to their failure to watch where they were going. On one memorable occasion we were both reaching with the chute up, with a closing speed of better than 20 knots. I indicated to my partner that although we were privileged in relation to the 60-foot yacht whose path we were crossing, there was clearly no one on deck or on watch. We blew the horn, jibed away, and only after we completed our turn did a startled-looking head appear from below. They were on autopilot with no watch.

Watchkeeping means keeping your eyes out of the cockpit. The instruments and chart plotter call for your attention, but keeping a visual lookout is primary, even with radar, even at night. The lookout requirement does not go away when you are drifting or anchored, and expires only when the boat is tied to a dock.

Collision Avoidance Confusion

Rule to Remember, #5: Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by looking and listening as well as by all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.

KAYAKS AND ROW BOATS

In summer I find myself surrounded by a flock of people in rental kayaks who have no awareness of navigation rules. They believe the harbor is a park, and they don’t understand the traffic patterns or the maneuvering requirements of the boats that come and go.

Collision Avoidance Confusion

The COLREGs are mute on the subject of human-powered craft (other than lighting requirements), but the Coast Guard addresses this on the Frequently Asked Questions subsection of its Navigation Center website:

Although a vessel under oars may be lit as a sailing vessel, one should not infer that they are considered to be a sailing vessel for other Rules (i.e. Rule 9, 10, 12, 18 or 35). Ultimately, the issue of whether a vessel under oars is the give-way or stand-on vessel would depend upon what would be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of that situation (Rule 2) and the notion that they are less able to maneuver than most other vessels.

The “ordinary practice of seaman” can be taken to mean common sense. But common sense always requires both knowledge and reflection. Some kayakers know the rules and respect the maneuvering needs of yachts. Some don’t. It is your job to avoid the latter folk regardless of whether they are abiding by the COLREGs.

Certain inland waters may have different rules for human-powered craft. The state of Minnesota and the city of Oceanside, CA, for instance, have local regulations that take opposing stances regarding the right of way of small craft.

Collision Avoidance Confusion

HIGH SPEEDS AND ERRATIC COURSES

When something dumb is happening in front of you while driving on the interstate, you lift your foot off the gas to slow a little, while considering other options—including changing lanes. Most discussions in the COLREGs focus primarily on making course changes, but it also addresses safe speed. Speed control applies to sailing vessels as well, since you can ease sails in a second or furl a jib in a minute. Beating or reaching you can simply luff. Downwind you can steer dead downwind and stall the sails. Of course, these later actions could also be misinterpreted as course changes and lead to others to question your intentions. In short, consider all your options—including changing speed. Always try to make your intentions clear.

Keeping the boat oriented in the same direction (holding or keeping station) can be difficult when going slow. This is simple with twin screws or an outboard. In either case, it is useful to turn either bow or stern towards the wind or tide. Backing into the wind or current is often an effective way to hold station. For powered sailing monohulls, backing into the wind and prop walk are your friends. Consider this a skill set worth acquiring for close maneuvering in marinas.

Fast vessels often weave, making it impossible for the slower vessel to predict their course and decide to either give way or stand on. For example, in a typical situation, a kayaker in open water might be moving two or three times slower than the sailing yacht. The sailing yacht, if following the wind, is constantly changing course, so the kayaker might be unsure of the yacht’s true course. The practical solution is for the sailboat to give way to the kayak. However, don’t expect a fast-moving powerboat to give a sailboat the same consideration. In general, fast-moving powerboats are a hazard to be avoided when practical, regardless of what the rules say. Because the situation is unpredictable, any course changes should be made as early as practical and be obvious; things happen too fast at the last moment.

If a vessel is weaving, is it on a defined course? To apply the Rules, you must first know what the other vessel is doing, and if that is unclear, it’s a situation of special circumstances (Rule 2). This can include water-skiers, wind surfer, kiteboarders, personal watercraft, and all inattentive operators. If you are the water-skier or wind surfer, your variable course makes you give-way in virtually all circumstances, and that applies to your interactions with other people when you are tacking randomly across the bay. The rules have little tolerance for the boater who behaves erratically.

However, don’t dismiss a vessel’s course as erratic too quickly. The turn may be part of a maneuver to avoid a collision. When tacking, or hoisting or dousing sail, your course may appear erratic, so you must keep clear of all other vessels during these situations and not create a conflict by your actions.

It is common to approach a channel at an angle, and it’s often not clear to others whether you intend to cross or to turn into the channel. In a narrow channel, the boat in the channel is the stand-on vessel (Rule 9), but the moment it exits the channel, it can become the give-way vessel in a crossing situation. If you maintain course toward the vessel that has suddenly changed status upon leaving the channel, you risk confusing the other skipper (see “Potential Collision at Ship Channel Entrances”).

The takeaway is that places where a channel ends or begins are tricky because the applicable rule changes quickly and intentions of boats are not always clear. Adjust speed to avoid potential crossing situations that do not yet exist but may develop quickly.

Rule to Remember, #8(e): If necessary to avoid collision or allow more time to assess the situation, a vessel shall slacken her speed or take all way off by stopping or reversing her means of propulsion.

SPECIAL SITUATIONS

The overtaking vessel is never the stand-on vessel, not for sail, not for a boat that is restricted in its ability to maneuver, not for any vessel, except one that is not under command (which, by definition, has no control). Remember, if you cross another vessel more than 22.5 degrees aft of the beam, you are overtaking. Thus, passing in a narrow channel is generally bad and it is 100 percent your responsibility to keep clear, no matter how slow the boat in front of you is moving.

I’ve seen this one misinterpreted by hot shots who like to sail into their slips, claiming that they are under sail, and this gives them “rights.” Nope, not in narrow channels or when overtaking.

The Rules contain some common-sense requirement for smaller boats to keep clear when operating in large ship channels.

Rules to Remember: #9(b), #13, #18(d)(i): #9(b) a vessel of less than 20 meters in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the passage of a vessel that can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway.

13: Overtaking. (a) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Rules of Part B, Sections I and II, any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.

18(d)(i): Any vessel other than a vessel not under command or a vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver shall, if the circumstances of the case permit, avoid impeding the safe passage of a vessel constrained by her draft, exhibiting the signals in Rule 28.

THE ISSUE OF RAM

In general, this applies to ships that are limited in maneuverability by the work they are doing, such as laying cable or dredging, but can it also apply to fishing boats, or even a sailboat that is using a drogue or sea anchor in extreme weather? We have been advised it can. During my drogue testing (see “ Using a Jordan Series Drogue for Steering ,” PS August 2017), I began to wonder who would have right of way in such a situation. My boat was restricted in its ability to maneuver, or RAM; did this make me privileged over other vessels?

When you are dragging a drogue you are not claiming you have no ability to maneuver, only that this ability is restricted. In a severe storm, it may be a life-or-death decision to cut the drogue loose, and you may still not be able to maneuver with any accuracy.

The critical factor is that you must declare your RAM or NUC status with appropriate lights or day shapes. Unlike other status that may be visually obvious—sailing vessel or commercial fishing, for example—RAM and NUC conditions are generally not obvious and must be communicated. You are only RAM or NUC if you signal surrounding vessels that you are (see “ RAM Lights for Sailboats ,” PS June 2022.) The USCG has this to say about determining RAM: The determination of whether a vessel is restricted in their ability to maneuver is at the master’s discretion. Should a master consider their vessel restricted in their ability to maneuver, the vessel shall exhibit the lights or shapes as such (Rule 27) in accordance with the technical specifications (Annex I).

Rule to Remember #39 (f): (f) The term “vessel not under command” means a vessel which, through some exceptional circumstance, is unable to maneuver as required by these Rules. She is therefore (g) restricted in her ability to maneuver, which means a vessel, from the nature of her work, is restricted in her ability to maneuver as required by these Rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.

DISTRESS SIGNALS

The various lights and shapes to indicate distress are clear (Rule 37), but two deserve some special mention in this age of electronic flares and signaling devices.

Flashing lights. In the US inland Rules (not international) a bright flashing light of 50–70 flashes per minute is considered a distress signal.

Electronic flares. (See “ Distress Flares Go Electric ,” PS June 2021). Approved as electronic visual distress signaling devices (eVDSD) in 2015, electronic “flares” signal SOS (… — …) according to one of two patterns. Whether you chose to use these to replace traditional pyrotechnic flares, or to add these to your signaling tool kit is up to you. Either way, you should learn to recognize the flashing pattern.

Unlike driving a car, where blame is often settled on one party, boating collisions virtually always result in shared responsibility. You could have done something differently. You could have turned earlier, in a different direction or simply slowed down. You could have signaled.

The COLREGs guide us toward predictable maneuvering between yachts traveling in straight lines, but when faced with awkward crossing, fishing boat that is drifting or trolling multiple lines, or a paddler that may or may not know the rules, you must combine your knowledge of the rules with attentiveness, patience, and courtesy.

USCG NAVIGATION RULES www.navcen.uscg.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/navRules/navrules.pdf

STATUS OF HUMAN POWERED BOATS www.navcen.uscg.gov/navigation-rules-faqs#0.3_13

FISHING WITH TRAPS w ww.dco.uscg.mil/Portals/9/DCO%20Documents/5p/CG-5PC/CG-CVC/CVC3/publications/Safety_Digest-2008.pdf WORLD

SAILING RULES www.sailing.org/tools/documents/WorldSailingRRS20172020new-%5B24067%5D.pdf

The COLREGs do not deal directly with human powered vessels, and rules for small boats can vary depending on the jurisdiction. Compare the respect for paddle-power in Minnesota, where canoes have a long history, and in Oceanside, CA, where many small craft are banned from the harbor, and those allowed must give way.

Minnesota 6110.1200: A non-motorized watercraft has right-of-way over a motor-powered watercraft except when it is the overtaking watercraft. Motor-powered watercraft should always keep clear and pass astern of non-motorized watercraft.

Oceanside, CA. Sec. 29A.16.: . . . All human powered vessels authorized in the harbor pursuant to this subdivision (b) shall give way, yield the right of way

Collision Avoidance Confusion

1. Adding an outboard changes rights of way rules for dinghies.

Collision Avoidance Confusion

2. Fast-moving windsurfers and kiteboarders can present a navigation challenge. Some harbors restrict their use.

Collision Avoidance Confusion

3. Kayak, or sailboat? Either way, we’d give this fellow a wide berth.

Collision Avoidance Confusion

4. A prudent navigator will try to anticipate erratic steering from a single-handed sport boat, especially one that is flying an asymmetrical sail.

As described in the example below (based on an actual collision), the entrance to marked ship channels can create a potential collision risk when a privileged deep draft vessel exits the channel. Once in deep open water, a deep draft ship loses its privileged status as a vessel constrained by draft. Should another boat be entering at the time of this transition, the question of right of way can be confusing.

Collision Avoidance Confusion

Figure 1. The deep-draft outbound yacht Big Red (orange track) is navigating a narrow channel. The inbound boat Little Blue (blue track) will cross the channel. Because the Little Blue is on the starboard side of Big Red (which has just exited the narrow channel) it is stand-on, but Big Red, who was the stand-on boat just seconds before, may not have time to avoid Little Blue.

Despite having right of way in the immediate moment, Little Blue should wait, because it was the give-way vessel when avoidance maneuvers should have been made, well before the actual encounter.

In the trial resulting from the actual incident, the court divided responsibility between the two vessels, ruling that the outbound boat could have slowed when it observed the situation developing. However, the court found the inbound boat was primarily responsible because it should have waited for the outbound vessel to cross.

Most of us see ourselves as cruisers, not racers. For the most part, the racing rules are a logical extension of the COLREGs, but racing is all about passing, so there are differences. In principle, these rules only apply to meetings between sailboats in races (the COLREGs govern in all meetings with a boat not engaged in the same race), but except for Rules 11 and 12, they logically apply to all meetings. These rules can be helpful even to non-racers because they offer further insight into the COLREGs and the logic behind them. Sailboats are not always privileged, and your maneuvers can make you the burdened vessel.

Collision Avoidance Confusion

Rule 11 | Overlap. When Boats are on the Same Tack and Overlapped , a boat to windward shall keep clear of a leeward boat. Since racing is all about passing other boats, the rules depart from the COLREGs’ strict give-way rule (COLREGs Rule 13) for the overtaking boat. The conflict here is that the leeward boat may also be overtaking under the COLREGs (crossing from more than 22.5 degrees aft of the beam) which makes it burdened, and this rule supersedes all others in this case. Rules 12 and 17 (below) offer some clarification.

Rule 12 | On the Same Tack, Not Overlapped. When boats are on the same tack and not overlapped, a boat clear astern shall keep clear of a boat clear ahead, but only until an overlap is achieved.

Rule 17 | On the Same Tack; Proper Course. If a boat clear astern becomes overlapped within two of her hull lengths to leeward of a boat on the same tack, she shall not sail above her proper course while they remain on the same tack and overlapped within that distance, unless in doing so she promptly sails astern of the other boat. Note that “true course” can allow the leeward boat to force the windward boat to turn or tack away. This is definitely not behavior permitted under the COLREGs.

Rule 13 | Tacking. After a boat passes head to wind, she shall keep clear of other boats until she is on a close-hauled course. During that time, Rules 10, 11, and 12 do not apply. If two boats are subject to this Rule at the same time, the one to port or the one astern shall keep clear. The COLREGs takes a similar stance on tacking—while tacking you are the burdened vessel because you are not on any true course and the angle of your maneuver is not known. Any restriction in your ability to maneuver is your own doing, so don’t tack or jibe in close proximity to other boats.

Rule 15 | Acquiring Right of Way. When a boat acquires right of way, she shall initially give the other boat room to keep clear, unless she acquires right of way because of the other boat’s actions. Under COLREGs, channel ends are a common case; while in the channel a vessel is typically privileged, but when the vessel exits the channel a crossing situation can immediately make the same vessel burdened. It is the duty of the crossing vessel to give the other vessel room to keep clear.

Rule 16 | Changing Course. When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear. This is common sense, and not in conflict with the COLREGs. When you turn, a new situation exists and you are responsible for what happens during the change.

RELATED ARTICLES MORE FROM AUTHOR

Your get-home jury-rig won't be pretty. It consists of a bridle line (spinnaker sheet works nicely), a length of chain to keep the drogue submerged, and a series of fenders to aid recovery.

Emergency Steering? You Can Jury-Rig a Drogue For That

Sometimes one has the engine running, but not in gear, in case of trouble while sailing. Is the boat then a sailing boat or a power boat ?

What you suggest is common near bridges, for example, where the wind can swirl unpredictably.

The machinery must be in use to be defined as a power-driven vessel.

The appearance of smoke or water spurting from a fitting could mean a generator is running. The presence of a sail does not mean it is a sailboat. This is why dayshapes are required, though seldom used by recreational boats.

[From COLREGS definitions] (c) The term “sailing vessel” means any vessel under sail provided that propelling machinery, if fitted, is not being used.

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several tankers and recreational boats share a bay at sunset

Rules of the Road

Right of way rules.

Whenever you meet another boat, it’s like approaching an unmarked intersection in your car. Knowing a few, simple right of way rules will help you avoid a collision. Just as motorists must know what to do when approaching a four way stop, every crossing situation at sea is like approaching an unmarked intersection.

Because there are so many different types of boats and styles of boating, it is important to know what to expect when you come upon another vessel.

"Vessels" are anything that floats on the water that is used, or is capable of being used as a means of transportation on water. A log, a bathtub and many other things could be considered a vessel under the Navigation Rules. The Navigation Rules distinguish one vessel from another by both its design, and by its actions. This section covers maneuvering rules only.

There are other navigation rules that you are required to know. Sound Rules are covered under the Sound Signaling Equipment section. Light Rules are covered under the Navigation Light Equipment section.

The Rules of the Road are published by the U. S. Government Printing Office, and are available in any boating supply stores. Every boat owner should have a copy, but they are mandatory to be kept on vessels over 12 meters (39.4 feet) in length.

The Rules generally used in this course are Inland Rules, unless otherwise noted. There are small but important differences in the Rules depending on where you are operating your boat. It is your responsibility to know the Navigation Rules for your boating area.

  • International Rules - Apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected to them that are navigable by seagoing vessels.
  • Inland Rules - Apply to all vessels upon the inland waters of the United States, and to vessels of the United States on the Canadian waters of the Great Lakes to the extent that there is no conflict with Canadian law. Certain inland waterways may have specific provisions that apply to certain vessels.
  • Great Lakes - Includes the Great Lakes and their connecting and tributary waters including the Calumet River as far as the Thomas J. O'Brien Lock and Controlling Works (between mile 326 and 327), the Chicago River as far as the east side of the Ashland Avenue Bridge (between mile 321 and 322), and the Saint Lawrence River as far east as the lower exit of Saint Lambert Lock.
  • Western Rivers - Includes the Mississippi River, its tributaries, South Pass, and Southwest Pass, to the navigational demarcation lines dividing the high seas from harbors, rivers, and other inland waters of the United States, and the Port Allen-Morgan City Alternate Route, and that part of the Atchafalaya River above its junction with the Port Allen-Morgan City Alternate Route including the Old River and the Red River.

Vessel Types

  • Power Driven Vessel - Any vessel propelled by machinery. This includes any boat that has an engine. Sailboats are considered powerboats when they are being propelled by a motor - even if the sails are up.
  • Sailing Vessel - Any vessel under sail alone. Remember, if being propelled by a motor, a sailboat is considered to be a powerboat.
  • Vessels Engaged in Fishing - Means any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls or other fishing apparatus which restrict maneuverability, but does not include a vessel fishing with trolling lines or other fishing gear which doesn't restrict maneuverability. This means a shrimper out of Galveston is "engaged in fishing" Someone out trolling for stripers in their Grady-White is NOT considered to be engaged in fishing under the Rules.
  • Seaplanes - Are any aircraft designed to operate on the water.
  • Vessels Constrained by Draft - Means that a vessel can't deviate from a course/channel because they might run aground. A freighter in a narrow channel is an example of this. Note: This is for International waters only, not Inland.
  • Vessels Restricted in Their Ability to Maneuver - Means a vessel that can't maneuver as required by the rules because of the size or operation of the vessel. A fishing vessel pulling in nets and a buoy tender placing a buoy are both examples of a vessel restricted in their ability to maneuver.
  • Vessels not under Command - Any vessel that for some exceptional circumstance is unable to maneuver as required by the Rules, and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel. If Joe boater slips and knocks himself out, and can no longer steer--that's a vessel not under command. If the steering cable goes out, and you can't turn the boat, that's a vessel not under command. If the captain is not paying attention and hits another boat, that's negligence.
  • Underway - Means that you are not anchored, moored, at the dock, or aground. If you are even drifting along, you are underway.
  • Restricted Visibility - Means any condition such as fog, mist, falling snow, rain, or other similar causes that make it difficult to see other vessels. Losing your glasses is NOT restricted visibility.

Rule, Rule, Rule your Boat

It may seem as if you can do anything you want while you are on the water (You might also think that it looks as if everyone else is going crazy on the water). Boating on a crowded waterway can be scary! The good news is that there are rules to govern the action of each vessel. The bad news is that many vessel operators do not know the rules!

Not complying with the Rules - even if you don't know them, can get you in trouble on the water. Even if you think you are following the Rules, if there is something that you can do to avoid a collision - you must do it, even if you deviate from a different Navigation Rule.

It is your responsibility as the ship's captain to be aware of your surroundings at all times, and to operate your vessel in a safe manner. Caution may not be fun, but having an accident sure stinks.

The Rules state that every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing conditions to determine if a risk of collision exists. If there is any doubt, such risk shall be deemed to exist.

Rules Explained

The Rules are designed to tell you what to do when you operate your vessel near other vessels. The purpose of the Rules of the Road is to help you avoid an accident--not to establish responsibility or liability if you get into an accident. - Remember, if you get into an accident, you can be held liable, even if you followed the Rules to the letter!

Your primary obligation is to operate in a safe manner. Under the Rules, there is no "right-of-way" like there is on a street. For most situations, Boats are called one of the following.

  • Give-Way Vessel - If you are the Give-Way vessel, you must act as if the "stand-on" vessel has the right to keep going the way it is going. It is your responsibility to signal your intentions to the stand-on vessel, and it is your responsibility to maneuver your boat around the other in a safe manner. Also known as a "Burdened" vessel, as it has the burden of.
  • Stand-On Vessel - If you are the Stand-On vessel, it is your responsibility to acknowledge the intended actions of the give-way vessel. You must also maintain your current course and speed until the give-way vessel passes, or you enter a dangerous situation.

Operator Responsibilities

In addition to the Rules, you have other responsibilities as the captain as well. You are responsible for the safety of everyone aboard your vessel at all times--and you have a responsibility to those with whom you are sharing the water.

  • You must always operate at a safe controlled speed for the situation in which you are boating, and any legally mandated speed requirements that there may be, such as a slow/no wake zone.
  • Take care to avoid careless, reckless or negligent boat operations--such as operating too closely to other vessels, boating under the influence, or operating at an unsafe speed for the given conditions.
  • Steer clear of naval vessels, and other restricted facilities such as bridges, power plants and dams. New Homeland security measures require it, as does your safety! For more information, see the Homeland Security pages.

Finally, as a boater, you have a responsibility to all other boaters--and all others who enjoy the water--to be courteous and respectful of others. This means that you should always watch your boat noise (a legal requirement) avoid congested waters as much as possible, avoid disturbing wildlife and sea grasses, and look out for the safety and well being of other boaters by giving a hand to those in need.

The Pecking Order

There is a "pecking order" that can be used as a simplified memory aid to determine right of way for vessels of different types. Get very familiar with this list, as it is important to understand it thoroughly. The lower most vessel on the list is the give way vessel, and must stay out of the way of vessels that are higher on the list.

  • Overtaken vessel (top priority)
  • Vessels not under command
  • Vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver
  • Vessels constrained by draft
  • Fishing vessels engaged in fishing, with gear deployed
  • Sailing vessels
  • Power driven vessels

Collision Avoidance

  • Rules apply to vessels in all conditions of visibility. Rules are the same at night or in fog, for instance, as they are during a bright sunny day.
  • Every vessel must maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing at all times. Operator inattention and not having an adequate look out are a leading cause of accidents each year.
  • Every vessel must proceed at a safe speed at all times. Several factors should be considered when determining safe speed, including but not limited to the state of visibility, traffic density, your vessel's maneuverability, with special reference to stopping distance and turning ability. At night, consider the presence of background lights such as those from shore, or from the back-scatter of your vessel's own lights. Consider also the state of wind, sea, and current, and the proximity of navigational hazards.
  • The Rules specifically require that any action taken to avoid collision, if the circumstances allow, will be positive, made in ample time, and in keeping with good seamanship. Any changes in course or speed should be large enough to be readily apparent to the other vessel. This means that you should avoid last second changes in course, and you should avoid a small series of changes. Change direction early, and make a large turn.

Maneuvering

two vessels in a crossing situation

The main situations of collision risk are overtaking, meeting head-on, and crossing. When one of two vessels is to keep out of the way (give-way vessel), the other, the stand-on vessel, must maintain course and speed. The stand-on vessel must take avoiding action when it becomes apparent that the vessel required to give way is not taking appropriate action.

The Crossing Rule

Both International and Inland Rules state that when two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her starboard side (the give-way vessel) must keep out of the way.

As the give-way vessel it is your duty to avoid a collision. Typically, this means you must alter speed or direction to cross behind the other vessel (the stand-on vessel).

At night, if you see a red light crossing right-to-left in front of you, you need to change your course. If you see a green light crossing from left-to-right, you are the stand-on vessel, and should maintain course and speed.

The Meeting Situation

two vessels in a head on situation

At times there may be some doubt whether the situation is a crossing or a head-on meeting. In case of doubt, you should assume that it is a meeting situation, in which neither vessel has a clear-cut "right-of-way," and each must act to avoid the other. Each vessel in a meeting situation must alter course to starboard so that each will pass on the port side of the other. At night, you will recognize a head-on meeting situation if you see both red and green side lights at the same time.

The Overtaking Situation

two vessels in an overtaking situation

Any vessel overtaking any other vessel must keep out the way of the vessel being overtaken. The former is the give-way vessel and the latter is the stand-on vessel.

This rule applies even if the overtaking vessel is propelled by wind, oars, or rubber band paddlewheel.

A vessel is deemed to be overtaking when coming up with another vessel from a direction more than 22.5 degrees abaft (behind) her beam. This is the angle prescribed by the stern light.

At night, the overtaking vessel will see only the white stern light of the vessel being overtaken. If you see either side light, it is a crossing situation.

Operating in a Narrow Channel

First and foremost, you have to avoid larger vessels that can only travel in a channel. Even if your vessel is operating under the rules otherwise, you must give way to a boat that could potentially run aground or get into a collision if they left the channel.

Try and operate on the edge of the channel. Be extra cautious if you come to a bend in the waterway, and can't see traffic coming towards you.

You may sound a prolonged blast as a warning to traffic headed your way.

On the Great Lakes and Western River system, vessels going downstream are stand-on, vessels going up stream must give-way.

Potential Collision Situation

When the distance between two vessels decreases and the relative angle of the other vessel off the bow remains the same, then you will soon be trying to occupy the same spot in the water - a collision situation. Change course or reduce speed, even if you are the stand-on vessel.

a tanker seen through a periscope

Conduct of Vessels During Periods of Restricted Visibilty

Operating a boat in areas or at times of restricted visibility requires extra concentration by the skipper and the lookout. You must operate your vessel at a speed at which you can identify and react to a situation and still have enough time to avoid a collision. This is especially important when vessels are no in sight of one another.

  • Operate at a safe speed for the prevailing circumstances
  • Have engines ready for immediate maneuvering - including reverse
  • Don't rely on radar or other electronic imaging alone - use your buiilt in senses at all times
  • Take avoiding actions early and provide ample time for the other vessels to maneuver
  • Avoid sharp turns if being overtaken
  • Always - you are in doubt, reduce your speed
  • Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed

Other Rules

Whether under inland or international rules, power vessels must keep clear of sailing vessels in open waters. A sailboat with motor running is defined as a motor boat. The "pecking order" between sailing vessels is more complex. When two sailing are approaching one another so as to involve risk of collision, one of then shall keep out of the way of each other as follows.

  • When each has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind on the port side shall keep out of the way of the other.
  • When both have the wind on the same side, the vessel which is to windward shall keep out of the way of the vessel which is to leeward.
  • If a vessel with the wind on the port side sees a vessel to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether the other vessel has the wind on the port or the starboard side, she shall keep out of the way of the other.
  • For the purposes of these rules the windward side shall be deemed to be the side opposite to that on which the mainsail is carried. On square-rigged vessels, it shall be deemed to be the side opposite to that on which the largest fore-and-aft sail is carried.

Now that you are familiar with "The Rules," go out and use them in passing, meeting, and crossing situations you find on the water. You will get many puzzled looks from inexperienced boaters with no training or testing.

Remember, if a collision does occur, your proper use of the correct signals and appropriate actions will win you points! But you know enough now to avoid a collision.

The navigation rules of the road contained in this course summarize basic navigation rules for which a boat operator is responsible. Additional and more in-depth rules apply regarding various types of waterways and operation in relation to commercial vessels and other watercraft. It is the responsibility of a boat operator to know and follow all the navigation rules.

For a complete listing of the navigation rules, refer to the document “Navigation Rules of the Road” published by the U.S. Coast Guard (COMDTINST 16672.2 Series) and available through the U.S. Government printing office or on the web here .

For state specific navigation requirements, refer to the state laws where you intend to boat.

Sail Away Blog

Safety Tips: How to Navigate when a Sailboat Crosses Paths with a PWC

Alex Morgan

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

Sailing on the open water can be a thrilling experience, but it’s important to understand and follow the right of way rules to ensure everyone’s safety. This is particularly crucial when encountering personal watercraft (PWC) while sailing. Knowing the appropriate actions to take in different scenarios can help prevent collisions and accidents. Understanding right of way rules is the first step in safely navigating these situations.

Right of way refers to the privilege given to a vessel or boat to continue its intended course without interference from other vessels. It establishes the order in which vessels should yield or give way to each other. It is important to note that right of way is not always determined solely by the vessel type, but also by the specific circumstances of the encounter.

Scenarios and actions in encounters with PWCs include situations such as when the sailboat has wind on the port side and the PWC is approaching on the starboard side, or when the sailboat has wind on the starboard side and the PWC is approaching on the port side. Another scenario is when the sailboat and PWC are head-on or when they are overtaking each other. there are situations where the sailboat is crossing the PWC’s path from behind or from ahead. Each of these scenarios may require different actions to ensure a safe passage.

Taking appropriate actions in these encounters is crucial for maintaining safety. Communication with the PWC operator is important, and there are various methods to do so, such as using sound signals, navigation lights, or hand signals. Ensuring safety and avoiding collisions also involves maintaining vigilance and attention, maintaining a safe distance from other vessels, making predictable movements, and being prepared for emergency maneuvers if necessary.

By understanding right of way rules, taking appropriate actions, and prioritizing safety, sailboat operators can navigate encounters with PWCs effectively while minimizing the risk of accidents and promoting a safer water environment for everyone involved.

Key takeaway:

  • Understanding Right of Way Rules is crucial: It is important to know the rules regarding right of way to ensure safe navigation and avoid collisions when a sailboat encounters a PWC.
  • Taking appropriate actions based on scenarios is necessary: Different scenarios require different actions, such as understanding wind on different sides, approaching paths, head-on situations, or when overtaking or being overtaken by a PWC.
  • Ensuring safety and avoiding collisions through vigilance and preparation: Maintaining a safe distance, making predictable movements, being prepared for emergency maneuvers, and using communication methods like sound signals, navigation lights, and hand signals are all essential for safety.

Understanding Right of Way Rules

When it comes to understanding right of way rules, it is crucial to have a clear comprehension of the guidelines that pertain to various situations. In the specific scenario of a sailboat intersecting paths with a personal watercraft (PWC), the sailboat generally holds the right of way . Sailboats, being classified as vessels under sail, are afforded priority over PWCs.

Ensuring a safe distance is maintained and avoiding potential collisions is of utmost importance. The sailboat should remain on a consistent course and speed, thereby allowing the PWC to maneuver around it and yield.

Comprehending right of way rules is vital for the safety of all parties involved. By familiarizing themselves with these regulations, individuals can effectively prevent accidents and navigate the waters responsibly. It is imperative to always remain attentive, communicate clearly, and show respect for the right of way of other vessels .

What is Right of Way?

Right of Way refers to the privilege one vessel has over another in a navigation situation. It is a set of rules that helps prevent collisions and ensures safety on the water. Understanding right of way is crucial for boaters to navigate effectively and avoid accidents.

The vessel with the right of way has the authority to continue its course and the other vessel must yield or take appropriate action to avoid a collision. The determination of right of way depends on factors such as the position, courses, and types of the vessels.

For example, if a sailboat under sail is about to cross paths with a PWC , the sailboat has the right of way. The PWC operator should respond by slowing down, changing course, or stopping.

It is important for boaters to be aware of right of way rules and follow them diligently to ensure a safe boating experience. By understanding and respecting these rules, boaters can prevent accidents and navigate smoothly on the water.

Who has Right of Way?

  • Who has the right of way in sailing? The vessel with the wind on its starboard side .
  • When two sailboats are approaching each other with the wind on different sides, who has the right of way? The sailboat with the wind on its starboard side .
  • When approaching a powerboat, who has the right of way? The sailboat .
  • What must the overtaking sailboat do when overtaking another sailboat from behind? It must keep clear and give way .
  • When a sailboat is crossing the path of a powerboat, who has the right of way? The powerboat , and the sailboat must keep clear .
  • How should two powerboats pass when approaching each other? They should pass port to port , meaning they should keep to their right side .

Scenarios and Actions

When it comes to sailing, encountering other vessels can sometimes lead to tricky situations. In this section, we’ll explore different scenarios and the actions that should be taken to ensure safe navigation. From the sailboat having wind on the port or starboard side while a PWC approaches, to head-on encounters and overtaking situations, we’ll cover it all. So, let’s dive in and learn how to navigate these scenarios with confidence and caution .

Scenario 1: Sailboat has Wind on Port Side, PWC is Approaching on Starboard Side

When encountering Scenario 1, where a sailboat has wind on the port side and a PWC is approaching on the starboard side, the sailboat must yield the right of way to the PWC. This is because, based on the right of way rules, the vessel on starboard side has precedence over the vessel on port side.

Sailboat: – Wind on Port Side – Yields right of way

PWC: – Approaching on Starboard Side – Has right of way

In this scenario, the sailboat should take appropriate action to avoid a collision. It should steer clear of the PWC by adjusting its course or speed. The PWC should continue on its course without making any abrupt changes. Both vessels must communicate and signal their intentions to ensure a safe passage.

By following these guidelines, sailors and PWC operators can navigate effectively and avoid potential dangers on the water. Always prioritize safety and adhere to the right of way rules to prevent accidents and maintain a harmonious marine environment.

Scenario 2: Sailboat has Wind on Starboard Side, PWC is Approaching on Port Side

– The sailboat , with the right of way, must maintain its course and speed. The sailboat should be alert for the approaching PWC on the port side and be prepared to take evasive action if needed.

– In order to alert the PWC of its presence and intentions, the sailboat can use sound signals, such as a short blast.

– If the PWC does not yield or change course, the sailboat should consider slowing down or altering its course to avoid a collision with the approaching PWC on the port side.

– If necessary, the sailboat should communicate with the PWC operator using hand signals to ensure mutual understanding.

– The sailboat should continue to monitor the movements of the PWC and be ready to make further adjustments in order to avoid a collision with the approaching PWC on the port side.

– In the event that the PWC persists in approaching on a collision course, the sailboat may need to execute emergency maneuvers, such as changing direction or reducing speed, to prevent a collision with the PWC that is approaching on the port side.

Scenario 3: Sailboat is Head-on with PWC

In scenario 3, when a sailboat is head-on with a PWC, it is important for the sailboat to take necessary action to avoid a collision. As per the right of way rules, the sailboat has the right of way in this situation. Therefore, the sailboat should continue on its course and maintain its speed, while closely observing the movements of the PWC.

To ensure safety and prevent a collision, effective communication between the sailboat and the PWC operator is crucial. This can be done through hand signals or sound signals if required. It is important to clearly express intentions in order to coordinate and prevent any misunderstandings.

Vigilance and attentiveness play a vital role in this particular scenario. The sailboat operator should remain focused and be ready to make necessary maneuvers to avoid a collision. It is advisable to maintain a safe distance from the PWC and make movements that are predictable.

By adhering to these guidelines and taking appropriate actions, the sailboat can safely navigate during scenario 3 when encountering a PWC.

Scenario 4: Sailboat and PWC are Overtaking Each Other

In a scenario where a sailboat and a PWC are overtaking each other, it is crucial to follow right of way rules for safety and to avoid collisions.

The sailboat, being overtaken, should maintain its course and speed.

The PWC, being the overtaking vessel, should pass the sailboat at a safe distance and keep clear.

The sailboat should use hand signals to indicate its turning direction to the PWC.

The PWC should carefully observe the sailboat and adjust its speed and course to avoid collision.

Remember, when overtaking another vessel, maintain a safe distance and communicate intentions clearly to prevent misunderstandings or accidents.

Stay vigilant and be prepared to take necessary actions for everyone’s safety on the water.

Scenario 5: Sailboat is Crossing PWC’s Path from Behind

When a sailboat is crossing a PWC’s path from behind, it is important to follow these steps:

1. Assess the situation: Determine the speed and direction of both the sailboat and the PWC to accurately assess the potential collision risk.

2. Communicate: Use hand signals or sound signals to effectively communicate your presence and intentions to the PWC operator.

3. Maintain a safe distance: It is crucial to stay at a reasonable distance from the PWC in order to avoid sudden maneuvers that could lead to a collision.

4. Monitor the PWC’s actions: Pay close attention to any changes in the PWC’s course or speed.

5. Adjust your own course: If necessary, make slight course adjustments to pass safely behind the PWC.

Pro-tip: Always prioritize safety and remain aware of your surroundings when crossing paths with a PWC from behind. Utilize clear communication and employ defensive sailing techniques to prevent accidents and ensure a smooth and secure crossing.

Scenario 6: Sailboat is Crossing PWC’s Path from Ahead

When a sailboat is crossing a PWC’s path from ahead, the sailboat has the right of way. The sailboat should maintain its course and speed, while the PWC should take appropriate action to avoid a collision.

In this situation, the sailboat has the advantage of being under sail, which makes it less maneuverable than the PWC. The PWC operator should stay vigilant and assess the situation to decide how to avoid crossing paths with the sailboat.

The PWC operator can take the following actions to ensure safety:

  • Slow down or alter course: The PWC operator should reduce speed and change direction to avoid the sailboat’s path. This will create a safe distance between the two vessels.
  • Communicate with the sailboat: Using hand signals or sound signals, the PWC operator can indicate their intentions to the sailboat. Clear communication helps both parties navigate the situation smoothly.
  • Maintain a safe distance: The PWC operator must keep a safe distance from the sailboat. This allows both vessels to maneuver without risking a collision.

By following these guidelines, the sailboat and PWC can safely navigate the scenario of the sailboat crossing the PWC’s path from ahead.

Taking Appropriate Actions

– Taking appropriate actions is crucial when assessing the situation. Observe the trajectory and speed of both the sailboat and the personal watercraft (PWC) to determine the risk of collision.

– Use a loud and clear voice to communicate with the PWC operator about your presence and intentions, taking appropriate actions to ensure your message is heard.

– Alter the sailboat’s course to avoid the PWC, considering the wind direction and current. This is an example of taking appropriate actions to prevent a potential collision.

– Keep a safe distance between the sailboat and the PWC, taking appropriate actions to prevent accidents.

– Check the navigation rules to determine who has the right of way and act accordingly, taking appropriate actions based on this information.

– Continuously monitor the movements of the PWC to ensure its actions do not threaten the sailboat. Taking appropriate actions in response to any potential dangers.

– Slow down the sailboat if the PWC is approaching too closely or if there is a risk of collision. This is an example of taking appropriate actions to reduce the chances of an accident.

– Change course or come to a stop if the PWC continues on a collision path and does not respond, taking appropriate actions to avoid a collision.

– Stay calm and alert throughout the encounter to make informed decisions, taking appropriate actions based on the changing circumstances.

By following these steps and taking appropriate actions, you can ensure the safety of both the sailboat and the PWC, avoiding accidents or collisions.

How to Communicate with the PWC Operator?

When learning how to communicate effectively with a PWC operator while sailing, there are several important steps to follow. It is essential to use clear hand gestures to indicate your intentions, such as turning, stopping, or changing direction . Making eye contact with the PWC operator is crucial to ensure they understand your intentions.

If necessary, a whistle or horn can be used to get the attention of the PWC operator. In cases where gestures are not sufficient, a VHF radio can be utilized for verbal communication. It is important to speak clearly and concisely when using the radio, stating your intentions and requesting specific actions from the PWC operator.

In the event that the PWC operator does not respond or comply with your instructions, it is necessary to take evasive action to avoid any potential collisions. Remember, effective communication between the sailboat and the PWC operator is vital for the safety of everyone involved. By following these steps, you can minimize the risk of accidents and ensure a safe sailing experience.

Using Sound Signals

Using sound signals is crucial for communication while sailing to ensure safety and prevent collisions. It is important to remember the following key points regarding sound signals:

1. Emitting one short blast indicates that a sailboat is turning right.

2. Emitting two short blasts indicates that a sailboat is turning left.

3. Emitting three short blasts indicates that a sailboat is reversing.

4. Emitting one prolonged blast indicates that a sailboat has limited visibility.

5. Emitting five or more short, rapid blasts serves as an emergency signal for attention and distress.

It is highly recommended to familiarize yourself with the appropriate sound signals before embarking on a sailing voyage. Always remain attentive and responsive to sound signals from other vessels to avoid any accidents.

Using Navigation Lights

When sailing, using navigation lights is essential to ensure safety and avoid collisions. Here are some important points to consider:

– Understand the purpose : Navigation lights indicate the type of vessel, its position, and direction of movement. They help other vessels determine the right of way.

– Familiarize yourself with the lights : Different vessels have specific requirements for using navigation lights. Learn the specific lighting configurations for sailboats and personal watercraft (PWC) to comply with regulations.

– Ensure proper functioning : Regularly check the navigation lights for working order. Replace any burnt out or damaged bulbs. It is crucial that the lights are visible and easily identified by other vessels.

– Use navigation lights during appropriate times : Navigation lights should be used from sunset to sunrise and during restricted visibility conditions like fog or heavy rain. This enhances visibility and allows other vessels to accurately gauge your position and movements.

– Follow right of way rules: When encountering another vessel, use the appropriate navigation lights to indicate your intentions. Lighting configurations may vary depending on whether you have the right of way or need to yield to the other vessel.

– Communicate effectively : Proper use of navigation lights helps communicate your intentions to other vessels. For example, displaying the appropriate lights when overtaking or crossing paths with another vessel signals your actions and prevents misunderstandings.

By following these guidelines and using navigation lights effectively, you can ensure a safe and smooth sailing experience.

Using Hand Signals

When using hand signals while sailing, it is important to incorporate clear and effective communication with a Personal Watercraft (PWC). Here are the steps to effectively use hand signals:

– To indicate a change in course or direction, extend your arm and point in the desired direction.

– If you want to maintain your current course, hold your arm straight out to the side.

– To stop or come to a complete halt, raise your arm straight up in the air.

– If you need to turn or change course to the opposite side, extend your arm straight out to the side and then bring it across your body to the opposite side.

– To slow down or decrease your speed, lower your arm and repeatedly move it up and down in a waving motion.

By incorporating hand signals, you can ensure clear communication with the PWC operator, as they can easily see and understand the gestures. It is important to practice and familiarize yourself with these hand signals to ensure a safe and successful sailing experience.

Ensuring Safety and Avoiding Collisions

When it comes to ensuring safety and avoiding collisions on the water, being alert and proactive is key. In this section, we’ll explore the importance of vigilance and attention , maintaining a safe distance , making predictable movements , and being prepared for emergency maneuvers . By understanding and applying these principles, we can navigate the waters with confidence and minimize the risk of accidents. Let’s dive in and discover how to sail, kayak, or cruise with safety as our top priority.

Importance of Vigilance and Attention

The importance of vigilance and attention in sailing cannot be overstated. It is crucial for ensuring safety and preventing collisions on the water. Here are a few key reasons for the importance of vigilance and attention in sailing:

1. Anticipate and react to changing conditions: The importance of vigilance and attention in sailing lies in the ability to be aware of one’s surroundings and anticipate potential hazards or changes. This enables sailors to make timely and appropriate adjustments to their course or speed.

2. Identify and avoid collisions: Paying attention to other vessels and objects on the water helps sailors identify potential collision risks. By prioritizing vigilance and attention, sailors are able to take necessary actions to avoid dangerous situations.

3. Maintain safe distance: The importance of vigilance and attention in sailing ensures that sailors are aware of the distance between their own vessel and others nearby. This heightened awareness helps maintain a safe distance, preventing accidents and ensuring the well-being of all parties involved.

4. React to unexpected situations: Sailing can present unexpected situations. By being attentive, sailors are able to react promptly and effectively, mitigating risks and avoiding accidents.

5. Enhance overall situational awareness : The importance of vigilance and attention in sailing provides sailors with a comprehensive understanding of their surroundings, including the presence of other vessels, obstacles, and changing weather conditions. This heightened situational awareness helps sailors make informed decisions for safe navigation.

By prioritizing the importance of vigilance and attention, sailors can significantly reduce the chances of accidents and ensure a safe and enjoyable sailing experience for everyone involved.

Maintaining Safe Distance

Maintaining a safe distance is crucial for sailing safety. When out on the water, it is important to assess the other vessel’s speed and size. Understanding its capabilities and limitations will help you determine the appropriate distance to keep.

It is essential to consider wind and current conditions as these factors can affect maneuverability. By keeping a safe distance, you can account for any changes in direction or speed that may occur.

It is important to stay aware of the navigation channel, especially in crowded areas. Maintaining a safe distance will help you avoid collisions or interference with other boats. In order to determine the appropriate distance from other vessels, it is also important to follow right of way rules and understand who has priority in different scenarios.

Knowing your boat’s stopping distance is another important aspect of maintaining a safe distance. Take into consideration your boat’s maneuverability and stopping time when deciding how far away to stay from other vessels. A safe distance will allow for quick reactions and hazard avoidance.

Communication with other boat operators is key. Use signals or radio communication to convey your intentions and ensure clear communication. By staying vigilant and attentive, you can be aware of your surroundings and anticipate the movements of other vessels. Constantly adjusting your distance will help you maintain safety on the water.

By following these guidelines and maintaining a safe distance, the risk of collisions can be minimized, leading to a safer sailing experience.

Making Predictable Movements

Making predictable movements is essential for safe sailing and collision avoidance. To ensure this, follow these steps:

1. Take a careful look at the water for any potential hazards, such as other boats or obstacles.

2. Maintain a consistent and steady course, avoiding sudden changes in direction or speed.

3. Use clear and concise communication methods, like hand signals or sound signals, to indicate your movements to other sailors.

4. Keep an eye on the wind direction and adjust sails accordingly to maintain a steady and predictable course.

5. Always maintain a safe distance from other boats, ensuring proper clearance to prevent any collisions.

6. Adhere to right-of-way rules and yield to other boats when necessary, including giving way to boats on your starboard side and avoiding crossing paths with other boats whenever possible.

7. Stay alert and vigilant, continuously scanning your surroundings for any changes in the environment or incoming boats.

8. Be well-prepared for emergencies by familiarizing yourself with proper techniques and keeping necessary equipment readily available.

By making predictable movements, you contribute to a safer sailing experience for both yourself and others on the water.

Being Prepared for Emergency Maneuvers

To ensure safety for yourself and others aboard the sailboat, it is crucial to be prepared for emergency maneuvers . By following these steps, you can be well-equipped for any sailing emergency that may arise:

– Maintain constant vigilance to spot potential hazards and be proactive in avoiding them.

– Keep a safe distance from other vessels, allowing for quick maneuvering if necessary.

– Make predictable movements and always signal your intentions to communicate effectively with others.

– Familiarize yourself with emergency procedures such as quick turns and sudden stops, practicing them in different conditions to build proficiency.

– Understand the capabilities and limitations of your sailboat to make informed decisions during emergency situations.

– Maintain open and effective communication with your crew or passengers to ensure a coordinated response during emergencies.

– Consider taking a course on emergency maneuvers to further enhance your skills and knowledge.

– Regularly inspect and maintain your sailboat and equipment to ensure they are in good working condition.

– Create an emergency action plan for different situations, which includes clear steps to follow in case of emergencies.

By incorporating these steps into your sailing routine and consistently practicing them, you will be well-prepared for emergency maneuvers and ensure the safety of everyone on board the sailboat.

A Sailboat Under Sail Is About To Cross Paths With A Pwc What Action Should Be Taken:

  • ✅ In terms of right of way, the sailboat is considered the “stand-on” vessel while the PWC (personal watercraft) is the “give-way” craft. (Source: Our Team)
  • ✅ The sailboat is usually more difficult to maneuver due to its larger size. (Source: Our Team)
  • ✅ This means that the PWC always has to yield and move out of the path of the sailboat when they are about to cross paths. (Source: Our Team)
  • ✅ In these situations, the sailboat should maintain its course and speed. (Source: Our Team)
  • ✅ There may be instances when the PWC does not yield and change course, leading to a potential collision. (Source: Our Team)

Frequently Asked Questions

Faq 1: what action should be taken when a sailboat under sail is about to cross paths with a personal watercraft.

According to the right of way rules, the sailboat is considered the “stand-on” vessel and the personal watercraft is the “give-way” craft. The personal watercraft should yield and move out of the path of the sailboat.

FAQ 2: What should the sailboat do when a personal watercraft does not yield and change course?

If the personal watercraft does not yield and a potential collision is imminent, the sailboat should sound five short blasts of the horn as a warning signal. This alerts the personal watercraft driver that the sailboat is changing its position to the starboard (right) side.

FAQ 3: Which side should both vessels pass each other on if a collision is imminent?

If the personal watercraft has not moved and a collision is imminent, both vessels should pass each other on the port (left) side.

FAQ 4: What rules should personal watercraft encounters with other personal watercrafts follow?

In encounters between personal watercrafts, they should follow the same navigation rules as motorboats and other power-driven vessels. The vessel on the operator’s left side should give way, while the vessel on the operator’s right side has the right of way.

FAQ 5: Why are collisions more dangerous for personal watercraft occupants compared to other boats?

PWCs have no enclosures or hulls to protect the operator and passengers from the impact of a collision, making them more likely to result in death. Most PWC fatalities are caused by collisions rather than drowning.

FAQ 6: How can I find the original content from Team Origin’s consolidated websites on DesperateSailors.com?

All the original content from TeamOrigin.com and TeamOriginImages.com has been migrated to DesperateSailors.com. Visitors can find the content along with additional exciting content and resources on DesperateSailors.com. If you have trouble finding certain pages or content, you can contact DesperateSailors.com for assistance.

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Understanding Boating Right of Way Rules

boating right of way

Since there are no yellow or white lines or stop signs on bodies of water, it can be difficult to understand who has the right of way in boating. Right of way rules (often referenced as the "rules of the road" or navigation rules ) are specifically defined maneuvering regulations designed primarily to avoid a collision between vessels. There are many rules and they differ by type of vessel, the operations that vessel is involved in at the time, and where the vessel is located (on inland or offshore waters).

right of way at sea

Learning and memorizing all of them is a tall order for boaters of all experience levels, but it’s imperative to know the basics and then have the proper reference tools aboard to consult for all the more nuanced regulations.

5 Boating Right of Way Basics

  • Vessels under sail (without auxiliary power engaged) have right of way over powerboats in most cases. There are exceptions as described above and in an overtaking situation.
  • When crossing, the boat on the right (approaching from starboard) has the right of way. At night, you’ll see a red light moving across your horizon to the left. If there is a constant speed and bearing, you’re on a collision course and need to take evasive action.
  • When meeting head-on, each vessel must alter course to starboard if possible to give a wide berth to the oncoming vessel. At night you’ll initially see both red and green lights.
  • Any vessel overtaking another must keep clear of the stand-on vessel. You must keep clear if you’re coming up from behind and passing any vessel even if you are under sail and are coming up on a powered vessel. At night you’ll see a white light.
  • When approaching another vessel whose intentions aren’t clear, take evasive actions early and make them clear in order to communicate effectively with the other vessel. In other words, slow down and make any course changes large enough to be understood and consistent (don’t drive haphazardly).

Boating Etiquette: Reading Between "The Rules"

Sailing Right of Way

When two boats that are both under sail meet, the following rules apply:

  • The boat on a starboard tack has the right of way—the wind coming over the starboard rail.
  • When two vessels are on the same tack (the wind is coming from the same side), the leeward boat (downwind) has the right of way over the windward boat (that presumably has clean air for better sailing conditions).
  • When on the same tack in a passing situation, the vessel being overtaken has the right of way—always.

It’s your responsibility as the captain to know the basics and to act in a responsible manner to avoid a collision even if you’re the stand-on vessel. Slow down, evaluate the situation, make your intentions clear and in the end, presume the other guy has no clue and avoid an accident.

For a complete listing of navigation rules, refer to “Navigation Rules of the Road” published by the U.S. Coast Guard (COMDTINST 16672.2 Series), available through the U.S. Government printing office and also available here online .

sailing right of way

Vessel Types, Categories & Definitions

Navigation rules focus on how and where vessels move. These are also supplemented by light and sound signaling rules that are covered under different sections of what is called COLREGS, the International Regulations for Prevention of Collision at Sea, and they govern the responsibilities of vessel operators in inland and international waters. A copy of the Rules of the Road can be purchased at chandleries and a must be carried aboard vessels of 40 feet or longer.

The type of vessel will often dictate a captain’s course of action. Powerboats are propelled by machinery. Sailboats under sail are in one category but a sailboat with its auxiliary motor turned on and in gear is considered to be a powerboat even if its sails are up. The following vessels also have priority in certain cases:

  • Vessels constrained by draft (boats with a deep draft moving through shallow channels).
  • Vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver (boats that may be too large to be agile in a small body of water or those actively operating as tugs, buoy tenders, or those engaged in commercial fishing with gear deployed, etc.).
  • Vessels not under command (no one is in charge for whatever reason).

Vessel circumstances are defined differently. A stand-on vessel has the right of way and must maintain course and speed. It must also acknowledge understanding the intentions of the give-way vessel if signaled. The give-way or “burdened” vessel has the responsibility to maneuver safely around the stand-on vessel.

Marine Navigation: How to Navigate a Boat

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. If I’m towing a wakeboarder and another boat that’s not towing is in my way, who has the right of way?

If you’re towing on a lake or river, inland rules of the road still apply. However, your priority should be the safety of both vessels and the person you’re towing so if you must take evasive action, signal your boarder and stop, slow down or turn to avoid an accident.

Q. My boat is only 20 feet long. Do I still need to have a copy of the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules onboard?

You don’t need a copy onboard, but you do need to know the basics. If you’re hazy on any part, a copy may be a good investment.

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  • Right of Way Rules for Boating

1 Right Of Way

If you’re a new boat owner or you need a refresher on the right of way rules for boating — this article is for you.

While we all love to have fun on the water,  safety is always the priority . You may be intimidated thinking about driving your new boat down a crowded waterway with all different types of vessels crossing your path. How does everyone know where to go and how to stay out of each other’s way? Fortunately, there are regulations to minimize collisions and to maintain order and safety. However, it is also important to note that despite the rules, it is always your responsibility to avoid a collision, no matter the scenario.

Every good captain must know the right way to approach interactions with other boats — just like how it’s essential to know traffic rules when driving a car. When you understand the fundamental boating right of way rules for rivers, oceans and harbors, you’ll be able to cruise through the most crowded waterways with ease. Let’s dive in.

The Importance of Knowing Boating Right of Way Rules

The United States Coast Guard reported almost 4,300  recreational boat accidents in 2017 . Surprisingly, most recreational boaters aren’t familiar with the boat right of way rules, which causes confusion and makes their boating experience less safe and more stressful. If you master even the basic principles of boat-passing rules, you’ll know how to behave in any situation and keep your cool.

As the captain of your vessel, it’s your responsibility to maintain the safety of your boat and everyone onboard. The more knowledgeable you are about how to do that — such as by knowing and understanding boating right-of-way-rules and collision regulations — the less you have to worry about something going wrong.

2 Knowing Rules Importance

First things first — a few general tips and boating rules for maintaining navigational safety:

Don’t Go Too Fast

If you can increase the overall safety of your vessel or a vessel nearby by slowing down, you should. Sometimes the conditions are right to go fast, and sometimes they aren’t. It’s the job of a good skipper to know the difference. Take into account how many other boats are around you and if you have the proper space to slow down quickly.

Be Cautious of Other Boaters

Just like when you’re driving a car, just because the rules of the road exist, it doesn’t mean everyone follows them. Recreational boaters are notorious for not following the rules. If their actions seem unsafe, keep enough distance between you and them so that any unexpected maneuver won’t catch you off guard.

Always Be Respectful and Conscientious

While sometimes you may be operating under legal conditions, it’s still nice to give other boaters the respect and the space they deserve. Just because you have the right of way doesn’t mean you have to take it every time.

Avoid All Government Vessels and Restricted Areas

These vessels and areas almost always have the right of way, and it’s best to give them plenty of space.

Give Way If It Makes Sense

Even if you have the right of way in a situation that could be dangerous, it’s your responsibility to alter your course if it means avoiding an accident. If you did not change your course and an accident occurred, it’s possible you could still be at least partially at fault even if you did have the right of way. Safety always takes precedence.

Rules for Different Boating Scenarios

3 Rules For Different Scenarios

How two boats approach each other determines which has the right of way. Position, direction and the different levels of priority for different vessels make up the majority of the rules on the water. We’ll get into the different types of vessel priority a little later.

When a vessel has the right of way, they’re called the  “stand-on” or “burdened” vessel . If you’re the stand-on vessel, you have to confirm the actions of the give-way vessel by maintaining your course and speed until you pass them or need to alter your course.

The “stand-off” or “give-way” vessel is the one that doesn’t have the right of way.

What does it mean to give another vessel right of way? You must ensure they can hold their current course and speed, which may mean substantially altering your course in a way that’s clear to the stand-on vessel.

For this article, we’re assuming you operate a power-driven vessel — the rules are a little more complicated if you’re sailing.

Here are some common scenarios you’re likely to encounter on the water:

1. Approaching a Non-Power Vessel

When you’re approaching a vessel without motor power, such as a sailboat, they have the right of way.

An important note — a sailboat must be “under sail” to qualify for the right of way over power-driven vessels. If they’re using their small outboard motor instead, they have the same right of way as a normal powerboat .

In recent years we have seen a proliferation of human-powered craft in the form of kayaks and paddle boards. The  Navigation Rules  refer to human-powered craft as “vessels under oars” and they are singled out only in the lighting rules. Otherwise they are simply “vessels.” We may encounter these vessels in three different navigational situations. We may encounter them in overtaking situations. The vessel being overtaken is the most privileged vessel on the high seas. Give that human-powered craft a wide birth when overtaking, being mindful of your wake as you do. The two other navigational situations in which we may encounter paddlers are head-on and crossing situations.

Interestingly, the rules don’t make specific provisions for power-driven vessels encountering vessels under oars in head-on and crossing scenarios. Rule 2 is the “responsibility” rule, and it, in essence, tells us to use good judgment based on the whole of the navigational picture. In head-on situations, the standard port to port passing should serve us well. In crossing situations, there’s no reason why we can’t apply the rules of power-driven vessels as well. The vessel that has the other to her starboard shall give way. In short, Rule 8 tells us we must take all reasonable action to avoid a collision. Vessels under oars move relatively slowly and are easy to avoid. When encountering them take early and positive action to pass at a safe distance. In any case of uncertainty, the rules tell us we should slacken our speed.

2. Approaching Power-Driven Vessels

When two boats have the same priority of right of way based on their classification, the determining factors become position and direction of travel.

post, starboard and stern diagram

To determine the position of another vessel relative to your own, you must know the different “sectors” of your vessel, i.e., starboard, port and stern. Once you identify where another boat is relative to your own, you’ll know who has the right of way.

Using the following simple rules, you’ll have a good grasp on how to behave around other powerboats :

1. If another vessel is approaching you from the port — or left — side of your boat, you have the right of way and should maintain your speed and direction.

example of boat approaching from port (left) side

2. If a vessel is aiming to cross your path and they’re on your starboard — or right — side, they have the right of way. Alter your course so that you will pass them at a safe distance and in a way that is apparent to the other skipper.

example of boat crossing on starboard (right) side

3. Any vessel that is approaching your boat for the stern doesn’t have the right of way. Maintain your speed and course. Whenever a boat is overtaking another, the vessel in front always has the right of way and should be allowed to continue their original course unhindered. This is the case even if the vessel behind has a higher level of right-of-way priority, such as a sailboat.

example of boat approaching from the stern (back)

When the sun goes down, and boaters turn on their navigational lights, there’s an easy way to remember to who has the right of way:

  • – When you see a red navigational light on another boat, it’s indicating their port side, and they have the right of way — red means stop.
  • – When you see a green navigational light, you’re approaching a vessel from their starboard side, and you have the right of way — green means go.
  • – How do you know if you’re overtaking another vessel at night? Look for their white stern light and steer clear. The stern light shines at  22.5 degrees on either side of the boat  behind the widest point — the beam.

Knowing the basics listed above will have you in great shape in most boating situations. Below are some of the best practices that will help take your navigational skills to the next level:

If You’re Passing through a Crowded Harbor

One of the best tips for this scenario is to always aim for the stern of a boat you want to go behind — this lets the operator of the other boat know that you intend to go behind them and they can continue their course. Captains will sometimes use a VHF radio to communicate their intention to “take the stern” of another boat as a courtesy and to keep traffic flowing more smoothly.

If You Meet Another Boat Head-on

Under the boating rules of the road, vessels approaching each other head-on are always supposed to pass each other port to port — or left to left, just like on the road. However, crowded harbors and times when many boats come together at once make this difficult to follow all the time — stick to the rules as much as possible, but use your best judgment to keep everyone safe.

If You Want To Use a Horn To Communicate or You Hear Another Vessel’s Horn

Experienced skippers will sometimes use their horns to communicate. If you want to move past another boat in a narrow channel or if you’re overtaking another vessel and would like to pass, you may sound your horn for two short blasts. If you receive two short blasts back, the other skipper is signaling that the maneuver is okay. If they sound five short blasts in response, that means passing is unsafe, and you shouldn’t pass the vessel — in any situation, if you ever hear five short horn blasts, be on alert. This is the signal for imminent danger. Please keep in mind that international rules can differ.

If You’re on a “Collision Course” With Another Vessel

Remember, you must alter your course with ample time to safely avoid a collision, even if you are the stand-on vessel. The definition of a “collision course” is when the bearing from your boat to another isn’t changing, while the distance between your two boats is shrinking.

Once you’re familiar with the basic rules of the road, use them with your best judgment, and navigating through boat traffic will be a breeze.

Right of Way Between Different Types of Vessels

4 Right Of Way Different Vessels

Now that you know the basic rules of the road, we’ll cover a few special situations you may encounter. Besides the basics of power versus non-power boat rules, there’s a pecking order when it comes to the right of way — different vessels and different conditions determine who is the stand-on vessel.

Here’s the  U.S. Coast Guard list , from the highest level of right of way to the lowest:

1. A Vessel Not Under Command or a Vessel Restricted in Its Ability to Maneuver

The Coast Guard gives these two types of vessels the same level of priority. A boat “not under command” means that an unexpected circumstance is keeping the boat from maneuvering, like an engine or steering failure.

A vessel that restricted in its ability to maneuver is unable to move out of the way of other boats due to the nature of its work, like a buoy tender fixing a navigational aid or vessel transferring passengers while underway.

2. A Vessel Being Overtaken

Any boat approaching a vessel from astern must give them the right of way.

3. A Boat Engaged in Fishing

When a boat has commercial fishing equipment deployed, that restricts their ability to maneuver. Therefore, they have the right of way.

4. A Vessel Under Sail or Not Under Power

A vessel under sail as well as other watercraft that are not powered, — such as canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, etc. — have the right of way over powered-vessels.

Boating Right Of Way Rules V1 01

5. A Power-driven Vessel

As a power-driven vessel, you must give way to all the other categories above. If you are converging on another powered boat, either head-on or astern, the right-of-way rules mentioned earlier apply.

A few more unique situations that the Coast Guard doesn’t include on their simplified list are:

  • – Whenever you hear a siren or see blue flashing lights on an emergency or law-enforcement vessel, give them the right of way just like you would an ambulance or a police vehicle.
  • – Keep an eye out for tugboats and other vessels towing — if in the open ocean, they can have a submerged tow-line with a lot of distance between them and their tow.
  • – Always take the stern of large commercial tankers and container ships in the ocean, and never try to cross in front of them. While it may look like they’re not moving, they can be  running at over 20 knots .
  • – Steer clear of docked or moving ferries — some have submerged cable lines. Watch other boats and how they navigate around the ferry before crossing yourself.
  • –  Any boat under 65 feet  is obligated to steer clear of larger, less maneuverable vessels.

It’s important to maintain a proper lookout at all times when operating your vessel. If your boat is small enough, you may be able to keep track of everything by yourself. If you have a larger boat, you’ll probably want some help from a friend onboard — especially when leaving the dock or landing. Having an extra set of eyes is helpful to any captain, no matter how seasoned.

If you apply these tips and remain alert and responsible when operating your boat, there’s no reason you should get into a collision. If someone who isn’t following the rules happens to bump into you, following the rules only helps your case.

You can find a copy of the USCG Navigation Rules in most boating supply stores, and you can also  download it online . It’s a good idea for any boater to carry a copy onboard, and it’s mandatory for  any vessel over 39 feet in length. Be sure to look up your state’s navigational rules before you set out, as they may vary depending on location.

Formula Boats for Safety and Performance

5 Formula Boats

Here at Formula Boats, we take safety seriously. As a family company since 1976, we know the importance of protecting your most valuable assets. Owned and operated by lifelong boaters, the Porter family treats every product as a representation of themselves — that’s why we do everything we can to equip our customers with not only the most reliable boats available, but also the knowledge to be safe such as these boat rules on the water.

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The give-way hierarchy – sail boats and power boats

by Simon Jollands | Boat Handling , Crewing skills , Navigation , Yacht ownership

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

Who gives way to who at sea?

Even seasoned sailors sometimes get this wrong and in a crowded harbour this can easily lead to a collision or at best considerable embarrassment for a boat that mistakenly thinks it has right of way over another.

I recently went sailing with friends over a busy weekend on the South Coast of England. The conditions were perfect for sailing, a Force 4 breeze, full sunshine and everyone was out to enjoy themselves. While the conditions were perfect, Chichester Harbour was crowded with dinghy sailing races, keelboats, yachts, kayakers, paddle boarders, fishing vessels and countless motor boats of all sizes.

As we sailed towards the harbour entrance the crowding intensified and we kept a constant lookout in all directions. With a full genoa set, it was easy enough to keep a lookout to windward, but to leeward there is a significant blind spot for the person on the helm, so we decided to have a crew member at the bow to keep an all round lookout.

There was quite a bit of discussion about which vessels had right of way over others, so this has prompted me to produce a basic reminder of the give way hierarchy between sailing boats and power boats, plus explanations of what is meant by the give-way vessel, stand-on vessel and the overtaking rule.

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

The give-way hierarchy

  • Power boat gives way to sailing boat.
  • Sailing boat gives way to boat engaged in fishing.
  • Boat engaged in fishing gives way to vessel with restricted ability to manoeuvre.
  • Vessel with restricted ability to manoeuvre gives way to vessel not under command.
  • Note: A sailing boat which is motor sailing does not have priority over a power boat, even if it has sails hoisted.  

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

Sailing boat hierarchy

  • Port tack gives way to starboard tack.
  • If on the same tack, the windward boat gives way.
  • If it is unclear to a sailing boat on port tack which tack another sailing boat to windward is on, then the boat on port tack must give way.

Power boat hierarchy

  • If two power boats are heading towards each other, both boats should alter course to starboard, so their port sides will pass each other.
  • If two power boats are crossing paths and there is a risk of collision, then the vessel which has the other on its starboard side must give way. It must also avoid crossing ahead of the stand-on boat.
  • If a power boat meets another head on and is not quite sure if a collision is likely, then it should assume it does and alter course to starboard.

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

Give-way vessel

  • When two similar vessels are crossing, the one that has the other to its starboard side is the give-way vessel.
  • The ‘give-way’ boat is responsible for keeping clear and altering course where necessary to avoid a collision.
  • The give-way boat should make an obvious course direction in plenty of time, so the stand-on vessel is in no doubt it has taken avoiding action.

Stand-on vessel

  • If you are the stand-on boat, keep to your course and speed to make it easier for the give-way boat to manoeuvre out of your way.
  • If the give-way vessel does not take avoiding action, the stand-on vessel must be ready to turn quickly out of the way or stop as a last resort.

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

  • All vessels, whatever their size and type, must keep well clear of others when overtaking.
  • It is courteous to overtake a sailing boat on their leeward side, so as not to take their wind.
  • The vessel being overtaken must maintain its course and speed.
  • The overtaking vessel must be well clear of the other before it can resume its original course, allowing the overtaken vessel to maintain its course throughout the manoeuvre.

A vessel is said to be overtaking another if it is approaching more than 22.5º behind the other vessel’s beam. This overtaking sector covers an arc of 135º, which is the same as the arc of a stern light. At night, it is easy to tell if you are overtaking a vessel because you can see its stern light as you approach it.

During the day, it is not always as easy to be sure you are in the overtaking sector. Are you overtaking or alternatively are you crossing the other vessel’s path, in which case you could have right of way? If in doubt, it is always best to proceed with caution and keep well clear of the other vessel.

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

  • Keep a lookout at all times.
  • Remember to follow the give-way hierarchy. Vessels with priority over you have the right of way.
  • When altering course, make sure that the new course does not result in another close-quarters situation.
  • Be prepared to reduce speed if you are the give-way boat.

Finally, in a very crowded harbour situation it is wise for sailing boats with engines to furl their sails and proceed under engine until they are clear of the harbour entrance. This is not a rule as such in most harbours but it makes sense and is what we decided to do until we had left the harbour.

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

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Nomadic Sailing

Sailing Collision Regulations & Right of Way Rules

Sailboat drafting another sailboat

Before setting out for a sailing adventure where you get to enjoy the freedoms of any other sailor, being aware of the proper sailing collision regulations and rules for right of way is crucially important.

What do you do if you see a sailboat, powerboat, or even a tanker approaching your sailboat?

Just the thought of going through a collision situation where you’re uncertain what the rules are can be stressful. Luckily, there are some pretty straightforward rules that all sailing and power vessels follow to avoid collisions with just your boats, the water, and potentially some buoys.

Thankfully, everything you need to learn about sailing collision regulations and right of way is more or less common sense.

When you understand the foundations of why the rules are set in place the way they are, it’s easy to derive each rule on the top of your head when the time is right.

International Sailing Collision Regulations

All of the information laid out here are based on the regulations set forth by many countries around the world through the International Maritime Organization.

These regulations are formally recognized as the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) and were developed back in 1972.

While there have been many amendments since then, the most important core rules and regulations are covered below.

Basic Definitions

Whenever I set out to learn a new topic, there always seems to be a set of terminology and definitions that I need to learn before getting my feed settled.

Well, that’s certainly the case when learning about sailing collision regulations. It’s a good idea to get these definitions drilled down so you can be in good shape before heading out on the water.

Vessel – any maneuverable object that’s able to fulfill transportation on water, including watercraft and seaplanes.

Power-Driven Vessel – any vessel that’s powered through the use of electric, combustible, or other types of engines or motors.

Sailing Vessel – any vessel that’s powered through the use of one or more various types of sails provided any present engine or motor is not in use.

Vessel Engaged in Fishing – any vessel, either power-driven or sailing, that is fishing using nets, lines, trawls, or any other fishing items that remove the chance to maneuver easily. If the vessel is fishing and under power, it is considered a power-driven vessel.

Vessel Restricted in Her Ability to Maneuver – any vessel that’s unable to maneuver based on their current working conditions (e.g., towing, cable or pipe laying, etc.) and is therefore incapable of keeping out of the way of other vessels.

Vessel Constrained by Her Draft – a power-driven vessel that is severely restricted in its ability to deviate from its course due to ineffective draft in relation to the available depth and width of the surrounding water.

Underway – the situation when a vessel is out on the water and not anchored, tied off, or aground.

Restricted Visibility – the situation when fog, mist, snow, rain, or any other visibility restriction is present out on the water in proximity to a vessel.

These are just a few basic definitions that’ll help you out when reading up on the following rules and regulations, so it’s a good idea to keep them in mind as we walk through everything.

Never Forget This Rule

There exists a rule when going out on the water with your sailboat that, if nothing else, should be understood to the core.

While every sailing rule is important, this is the big daddy when it comes to sailboat collision regulations and right of way.

The rule goes: “Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”

This rule is Rule 5 of the COLREGS and is often cited as the rule to remember at all times if any rule is to be remembered. It definitely makes sense, but it’s worth understanding now so all your bases are covered.

If you want to be prepared for a serious event, if one ever arises, following this rule will hopefully give you enough time to plan accordingly.

Steering and Sailing Rules

Now that you have an idea of where all of the rules you need to learn come from, the terminology that’ll help you better understand the rules, and the absolute “do not forget” rule, you’re ready to start getting into the good stuff.

Steering and sailing rules are central to sailing collision regulations because they are the fundamental actions you and your sailboat can take to avoid near disaster.

The following rules are all based on specific situations you’ll likely encounter when out on the water.

Since none of us want to learn these kinds of things the hard way, it’s good to review these rules from time to time until they’re really engraved in your head for whenever you go out sailing.

1. Safe Speed

When you’re cruising along in your sailboat, you want to make sure you’re well in control. However, high winds can mean high speeds and high instability for a sailboat, so it’s definitely advised to keep your cruising speed at a reasonable level.

This speed, of course, depends solely on the type of sailboat you have, so getting a feel for your sailboat should definitely clear this up for you.

Now, if you’re out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean sailing from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia, there’s most likely not going to be a big deal if you’re speeding along.

However, in any circumstance that allows for lack of visibility, high traffic density, difficulty maneuvering, flashing lights, or any other hindrance, you should use common sense in determining the most appropriate speed.

2. Determining Risk of Collision

Sometimes you’ll be surrounded by a number of vessels and you’ll feel like you’re in a beehive of boats. On the other hand, you might be one of two vessels in the area, but you notice that you’re going in similar directions or crossing paths.

The ability to determine whether or not there’s a serious risk of collision between you and another vessel is a valuable and necessary skill to have.

It truly is up to you to determine if a risk of collision is possible. You should never depend on any other vessel to have the ability to come to this conclusion. You must take full responsibility and depend on yourself to assess the situation and act appropriately.

The best way to determine the risk of a collision is to monitor the compass bearing of an approaching vessel.

If it doesn’t change by a reasonable amount, then you’re at risk of collision. Even if the vessel is large, there is a substantial risk of a collision even if the compass bearing doesn’t noticeably change.

If you have any doubt about whether or not a risk of collision exists, you should assume a risk of collision exists and alter your sailboat’s course.

It’s always best to default to risk-aversion mode when encountering any similar kind of situation so as to avoid a more dangerous situation to occur.

3. Actions to Take When Avoiding Collisions

Once you’re able to properly assess a situation and determine whether or not your vessel is at risk of collision, you need to ensure you have the proper skill set for actually avoiding that collision.

As I stated previously, even if you’re unsure whether or not you’re at risk of collision, you want to default to “a risk exists” and take action immediately.

The most obvious way to avoid any collision while out sailing is to alter your sailboat’s course. This could be as simple as changing your point of sail on the same windward side or performing a tack or jibe to make it obvious you’re altering your course.

Either way, you want to ensure the action you take is positive, made in good haste, and obvious to the other vessel.

You can also lower your cruising speed as opposed to altering your sailboat’s course. Depending on your current situation, this may be an easier and faster option.

By letting out your sails or reefing them, you’ll be able to drop the speed of your sailboat relatively quickly.

The most important point to get across here is that whatever action you take, you want to do it fairly quickly and make it extremely obvious to the other vessel.

You definitely want to avoid small changes to your course or speed because this might not be sufficiently detected by the other vessel. Make it obvious so they know that you are taking action now.

4. Actions to Take When in a Channel

Most of the time when you’re out sailing, you’ll have the luxury of space when having to come up with actions to take to mitigate any risks of collision.

However, that’s a different story when passing through a channel since things can start to get tight and narrow. You most definitely want to avoid any potential issues or close calls.

The single most important rule to follow when moving through a channel is to stay on the starboard (or right-hand) side as you would on the road when driving a car in most countries (obviously excluding current and past Commonwealth countries).

While there are some vessels out there that didn’t get the memo on this rule, you’ll be well equipped under these circumstances.

Sometimes a channel is especially narrow, which can provide a lot of difficulty for vessels since the number of “lanes” of moving through the channel is less than normal.

Obviously, everyone wants to get through it as fast as possible, but also as safe as possible. If you’re traveling through a narrow channel, stay on the starboard side as near to the outer limit of the channel as is safe and practical.

If the channel’s so narrow that only one vessel can travel through it at a time, under no circumstance should a vessel less than 20 meters (~65 feet), a sailing vessel, or a fishing vessel block any other type of vessel.

They are given the right of way so they can safely navigate within very narrow channels.

5. “Give Way” or “Stand On”

I think by now it’s clear which actions to take if you’re potentially at risk of collision while out sailing.

While it’s certainly important to be able to spot these situations as soon as possible and act immediately, you also want to consider whether the other vessel is aware of the same situation unfolding.

If the other vessel is under control by a responsible and competent captain, then the other vessel will clearly be assessing the situation as well.

Under these circumstances, one of you will beat the other to the punch by altering your course or slowing down so as to avoid any risk of collision.

The vessel that decides to alter its course or reduce its speed is “giving way” while the vessel that continues onward with the right of way is “standing on”. These vessels are also known as the “Give Way” vessels and “Stand On” vessels, respectively.

If the vessel learns it’s the “Give Way” vessel, it needs to take early and substantial action to avoid any and all collisions. We covered this pretty extensively already.

If the vessel that learns it’s the “Stand On” vessel, maintaining course and speed is the only action that needs to be taken.

However, if you know you’re the “Stand On” vessel and the “Give Way” vessel is clearly not taking the appropriate actions to avoid a collision, then it becomes your responsibility to alter course and/or reduce speed.

I’ve seen this play out a few times and it’s best to just do what you got to do. Not everyone’s aware of the rules even though they should be.

6. Overtaking

You know what it’s like to pass someone on the freeway that’s either going a tad too slow or they seem to be an irresponsible driver.

When it comes to vessels out on the water, there are rules to follow when passing, or overtaking, other vessels to ensure everyone’s safe and under the same understanding.

There will certainly be a time you’ll overtake another vessel, so the most important rule to follow when doing so is to keep well out of the way of the vessel you overtake. A safe distance is your best insurance policy under these circumstances.

You’ll know when you’ve officially overtaken another vessel when you’ve crossed the 22.5-degree mark abaft their beam. At night time, this means that only the stern light of the vessel will be visible before being overtaken.

To keep things absolutely safe when sailing out on the water, you want to always assume that your sailboat is doing the overtaking if at all it’s uncertain who of the two vessels is doing the overtaking.

This ensures that you’ll be the one guaranteeing the appropriate amount of distance between you and the other vessel is set.

7. Right of Way with Sailing Vessels

Getting used to sailing collision regulations is an important step to becoming a safe and responsible sailor, so being to determine the correct right of way sailboats should take when confronting one another is crucial.

While it’s not always the case that every sailing vessel will be as clear of the rules as you, it’s nonetheless vital information for correctly operating out on the water.

The following sections will help you understand when and how you should either give way or stand on when avoiding the risk of collision.

Head on with Sailing Vessels

Being head-on with another sailboat simply means that both you and another sailboat are heading straight toward each other. Now, you might think this is obvious, but it takes a bit of thinking.

Over time, you’ll be able to recognize right away what you and the other sailboat should do. At the end, which boat gives way and stands on depends on the direction the wind is blowing with respect to both sailboats’ sails.

If you’re both head-on, then the sailboat who’s being pushed by the wind on its port side must give way. What this boils down to is the sailboat on port tack gives way to the sailboat on starboard.

This can be visually determined quite fast by simply checking the mainsail of your sailboat and the other sailboat. The best way to give way in this situation is to turn into the wind.

If both of your sailboats are side by side, thus both having the wind coming from the same side, then the sailboat closest to the wind must give way to the other sailboat.

In sailor speak, the sailing vessel which is windward must give way to the sailing vessel which is leeward. Again, the best way to give way in this situation is to turn into the wind.

Crossing Sailing Vessels

Now, there is a situation where both you and another sailboat are on such a course that you’ll eventually cross one another.

It’s fairly easy to determine who has the right of way when coming head-on with each other, which is not much different when determining the right of way when sailboats cross.

If you and another sailboat are on a course to cross one another, the sailboat that gives way is the one sailing port tack. This is under the assumption that you’re able to determine whether or not the other sailboat’s tack.

As a matter of fact, you may be uncertain of which tack they’re truly on, so it’s best to be safe and just default to being the give-way vessel if this situation comes up and you happen to be on port tack.

If you’re on starboard tack, wait for them to give way unless they’re clearly not going to give way.

It’s important for me to emphasize that being able to understand the rules and regulations for avoiding collisions while sailing out on the water is extremely crucial.

With a bit of study and practice, you’ll have it down in no time. Just make sure that you take responsibility for your crew and ship by giving way if at any time you’re in doubt. This is by far the safest thing to do.

8. Right of Way with Power-Driven Vessels

Whenever you run into the situation of having to decide who has the right of way when you’re in a sailboat and the other vessel is a powerboat, you are generally the stand-on vessel.

This can depend on the size of the power-driven vessel and the local rules, but this is generally the case. The reason for this is that it’s generally easier for a powerboat to take action by either altering its course or powering down a bit to avoid any risk of collision.

However, you might be moving along using your engine as your main source of power which would technically classify your vessel as a power-driven vessel.

Under these circumstances, you definitely want to take into consideration the right-of-way rules that are laid out for powerboats.

Head on with Power-Driven Vessel

A head-on situation between two vessels under power is extremely straightforward: both alter their course to starboard.

Just like being on the road in your car (again, not including present and past Commonwealth countries), you’ll keep your distance from other drivers by staying on the right side of the road.

Crossing Power-Driven Vessel

Deciding on who gives way when going head-on with another power-driven vessel is very easy, but that’s a different story when these two types of boats are about to cross one another.

The rule is that if both vessels are crossing and at risk of a collision, the vessel which has the other on its starboard side must give way. Keep in mind not to cross their path when giving way, but instead slow down and pass them from aft their boat.

Just as a reminder, if you’re in the situation where the give away vessel that you’re potentially at risk of colliding into doesn’t appear to be giving way, it’s your responsibility to notice and act accordingly.

You might technically be the stand-on vessel when the give-way vessel is a cruise ship, a fishing trolly, or a tanker, but be aware that some of these vessels will not give way to a sailboat like yours. As is life.

The 7 Inland Navigation Rules

We just went through a lot of extremely valuable information that should help you out whenever you’re uncertain of the rules and regulations you should be following when out sailing.

Being able to tell which vessels have the right of way and acting accordingly if there’s ever a risk of collision is a huge responsibility that all sailors need to take on.

As an extension to the rules and regulations we already discussed, there are a number of other rules that are more specific to inland navigation.

If you’re sailing in the US, there are specific rules that you must abide by which are called the Inland Navigation Rules.

Here are the seven extra rules that need to be followed in US inland waters:

  • Be aware that submarines must be avoided entirely and generally have the right of way. You can see a surfaced submarine if they’re showing a flashing amber light that pulsates three times every three seconds.
  • All power-driven vessels that are traveling downstream through narrow channels or fairways on the Great Lakes and all major rivers (e.g., Mississippi River) have the right of way over any vessel traveling upstream.
  • The use of VHF communications may replace the communication of sound or visual signals, depending on the circumstances.
  • All power-driven vessels crossing a river must give way to any other power-driven vessel that’s traveling up or down the same river.
  • Any vessel that’s pushing ahead or towing alongside must indicate that this is occurring by using two towing lights over the stern light.
  • Any vessel that’s being pushed ahead or towed alongside must present at the fore end of the vessel sidelights and a yellow flashing light that pulsates at a rate of 50 to 70 flashes per minute while also covering an arc fore the vessel of between 180-225 degrees.
  • Any vessel that’s being towed alongside on both sides (port and starboard), a stern light must be shown on the stern of each towing vessel while also having a single set of sidelights as far fore and as far outboard as possible with a single flashing light.

Be Safe out There

We just went through a ton of sailing collision regulations and right-of-way rules that you should keep in mind whenever you head out sailing.

While a lot of the time you just need to memorize a few simple procedures, most of the time you just need to follow a bit of common sense.

The absolute most important point to take away from all of this is that you should always keep your wits about yourself and simply be conscious of your surroundings.

As long as you do that, you can be sure you’ll have plenty of time to assess the situation and act accordingly.

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Boating Right of Way Rules

Boating Right of Way Rules: Understanding Meeting, Crossing, & Overtaking

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Last Updated on October 12, 2023 by Boatsetter Team

Memorize the basics when it comes to whether the Rules of the Road favor your boat over another during encounters on the waterways.

Think back to when you took your automobile driver’s test. You likely took a course first, to learn proper steering and braking, plus what road signs and painted lines mean. In boating, unfortunately there are no lines on channels or bays—and no stop signs or traffic signals, either.

But, there are certain rules that everyone not only needs to follow by law, but also easily can commit to memory. Boating right of way rules ultimately serve the same purpose as roadway rules: They keep everyone safe. Read this post all the way through to learn the right of way rules in boating.

Post summary:

Boating definitions to understand the right of way rules 

  • Boating scenario to know 
  • More opportunities to learn about boating

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In every encounter on the water, one boat is the give-way vessel , while another is the stand-on vessel . The give-way vessel must keep out of the way of the other vessel.

Simultaneously, the give-way vessel needs to take action early enough, substantially enough, and safely enough so that the other vessel’s operator notices it. The stand-on vessel, meanwhile, needs to maintain both course and speed until the give-way vessel passes you, or the give-way vessel’s actions by themselves won’t prevent a collision.

Boating scenarios to keep in mind 

Next, the majority of scenarios in which give-way and stand-on vessels encounter each other are meetings , crossings , and overtakings . Here’s what these mean and what the boating right of way rules dictate:

A meeting is when two boats are on a course to encounter each other head -on or close enough to it. Here, the boating right of way rules say that both boats are the give-way vessels. Therefore, you need to pass each other on your port sides by maneuvering to starboard .

A crossing occurs when two boats are about to cross paths perpendicular to each other. If the other boat is to starboard you, you’re the give-way vessel. So, turn your boat to starboard, to keep that boat to port and both of you safely on your respective ways. (A helpful tip if you can’t remember crossings from meetings: When in doubt, always assume it’s a head-on meeting, and turn to starboard.)

Overtakings

An overtaking is exactly what it sounds like, one boat passing another by coming up from behind it. According to the boating right of way rules, the overtaking vessel is the give-way vessel, no matter what.

This may seem confusing if you’ve read a few boater’s ed articles and learned how some vessels—sailboats and rowboats, for example—have priority over powerboats because they’re less maneuverable. With overtakings, it doesn’t matter which vessel is more or less maneuverable. It only matters which is overtaking and subsequently which is being overtaken.

Even if you understand the boating right of way rules, other boaters you encounter might not. For example, they could be pretty inexperienced behind the wheel and not realize the rules exist. Or, they might know about them but ill-advisedly ignore them. Keep a close watch on their maneuvers—or lack thereof—and be prepared to act accordingly. Even if technically, you’re supposed to maintain course and speed, you actually may be safer yielding.

For an even deeper understanding of the boating right of way rules, visit the U.S. Coast Guard webpage for Navigation Rules .

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Collision Regulations & Rules

"Here lies the body of Michael O'Day, who died maintaining the right of way. He was right, dead right, as he sailed along, but he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong."

There is no such thing as a right-of-way . There is only Rules of the Road - all boat operators must use every available means (lookout, radar, radio) to determine whether there is a risk of collision, and avoid one.

All ships (vessels over 20 metres / 65 ft.) have the right of passage over all boats under 20 metres. For pleasure craft, power-boats must keep clear of boats being sailed, rowed or paddled. (A sailboat under sail and power is considered a power-boat.) In a narrow channel, boats must not hamper the safe passage of any vessel that cannot safely navigate outside the channel. There are additional rules for the Heritage Canals

You must always try to avoid a collision regardless of the "rules of the road".

From the Canada Shipping Act: Collision Regulations: Any action taken to avoid collision shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, be positive, made in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship.

Shoreline speed limits in most provinces restricts boats to 10 km/h within 30 metres (100 feet) of shore. There are some exemptions, such as ski boats going perpendicular (directly away) from shore. ( Speed Limits & Boat Wakes )

The Rules of the Road began in the days when most ships had square rigs and had trouble sailing to windward. The rules made the downwind boat "give way" to those sailing to windward, the "privileged" boat.

Tack is determined by the mainsail. For example, port tack means that the wind is coming over the port side (left side facing forward) of the boat and the mainsail (or largest foresail) is carried to starboard. The port side is thus the windward side.

Racing rules apply only to the race and does not provide special exemption from the international rules when meeting non-racing boats.

Alter course well in advance so the other vessel knows your intentions. There's no such thing as "right of way" on the water, only "rules". Don't assume the other vessels knows the rules.

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Who Has the Right of Way When Sailing?

Who Has the Right of Way When Sailing? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Before you can understand who has the right of way when sailing, it is important that you understand who creates the regulations on the water. Multiple bodies have created sailing laws, and safety directives involve sailing ships. International and U.S. based organizations have created a mostly cohesive book of law regarding the use of waterways. This includes which ship has the right of way when sailing. Each country will have its own set of local laws, but there are internationally accepted "rules of the road".

In the context of laws regarding ships, a sailboat is one that is propelled solely by wind power. Even if that ship has a motor, if it is not on and in gear, then it is considered a sailboat. When your boat's engine is on and in gear, it is regarded as a powered boat.

Avoiding a collision is more than just determining the right of way; you also need to be able to understand the placement of the other ship in relation to your own. Perspective can be challenging on the water, where there are not a lot of landmarks to help you figure out if you are on a collision encounter or not. Here are several ways to figure out if you are going to avoid or intercept the other boat.

The best tool is your compass. If you take a bearing of the other ship and then a short time later take another bearing, then there should be a discrepancy. If not, then you are on a collision course. You can also line up the other boat with an object onshore if it is within sight to determine if there is any change in their movement direction. Regardless of which ship has the right of way, if the other ship should be the one moving and it is not, then you must take evasive action.

Table of contents

International Laws

These laws are in effect on the high seas and waters connected to them for any vessel that floats. There are laws pertaining to all aspects of sailing and the type of boat. If you intend to sail across high seas, then you will want to familiarize yourself with them.

Maritime Law

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "Maritime law, known as admiralty law, or admiralty, the body of rules that determines the actions of ships and shipping." This is different from the International Laws of the Sea in some cases.

Local and Inshore Laws

If you are in America, then it is a good idea to have a copy of the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules aboard your boat. You should also be aware of the basics of all aspects of sailing law before you begin. There are also digital copies you can keep on a device. There are specific regulations regarding the way boats interact on Western Rivers, the Great Lakes, and other inland bodies of water within North America. The United States Government Printing Office is responsible for the Navigation Rules of the Road, which you legally need to have a copy of on your boat if the vessel is over 39.4 feet long.

Regulations on Right of Way Based on Type of Boats Involved

We are only going to look at three scenarios for sailing right of way. However, other types of boats will have their own rules and regulations in place. If you need to know more, you can read about them on the website for the National Maritime College . Below we have broken down the regulations for who should be the one to turn concerning sailboats in several instances.

Two Sailboats Interacting

The following steps are the general rules for the right of way when two sailboats are involved.

  • Whichever boat has the wind from the direction of the starboard rail has the right of way.
  • If both ships have wind coming from the same direction, then the one downwind has the right of way.
  • If both ships have wind coming from the same direction and one is overtaking the other, then the vessel being passed always has the right of way.

A Sailboat and a Powered Boat Interacting

Below are standard rules of engagement for powered vehicles against sailboats. There may be different laws in your local area. Check before sailing.

  • Sailboats have right of way over powerboats in almost all cases. The exception being when the sailboat is overtaking the powerboat and certain unique situations.
  • If two boats are crossing, then the one on the starboard side has the right of way. In situations where it is dark, you will be able to see a red light moving across your horizon to the left, and if this remains a constant, then you are on a collision course and should evade.
  • During head-on meetings between ships, they must both change their course to starboard to create as much room as possible. In the dark, you will see red and green lights and must change your direction to starboard.
  • If you are overtaking another vessel, then they have the right of way. In the dark, you will see a white light to indicate you are approaching the rear of a boat.
  • If you are not confident what the other boat is planning to do, then you should slow your ship, change course early, and allow them to see your intention. This is the safest way to stop a potential collision, regardless of who has the right of way.

Regulations Based on Location

There will be a unique set of laws and regulations for the water, depending on where you are located. This is true for almost every country around the world, but we will focus on American and international laws below.

Offshore and International Locations

International Laws of the Sea take over once you reach the high seas. The right of way in this location includes the following.

  • Whichever boat has the wind from the direction of the starboard rail has right of way.
  • If both ships have wind coming from the same direction, then the one that is downwind has right of way.
  • If both ships have wind coming from the same direction and one is overtaking the other, then the boat being passed always has the right of way.

For larger ships meeting smaller ones, the rules are as follows.

  • Sailboats must give way to larger vessels.

Maneuverability is all-important when it comes to who needs to give way. There is a list, and the lower down you are on the list, the more leeway must be given because the less maneuverability you will be able to control.

  • If a boat is disabled
  • If a boat is hard to move (e.g., dredge, barge in tow, etc.)
  • If a boat is too large to move quickly (e.g., freighter)
  • If a boat is actively fishing (e.g., trawler, other commercial fishing boats, etc.)
  • If a boat is being rowed
  • If a boat is under sail propulsion
  • If a boat is a recreational powerboat

Inland Locations

The following is a section taken directly from the Navigation Amalgamated International and the United States Inland Navigation Rules created and distributed by the United States Coast Guard. You can read the entirety of the document on the United States Coast Guard website.

"The Rules do not grant privileges or rights; they impose responsibilities and require precaution under all conditions and circumstances. Power-driven vessels are to keep out of the way [...] and either give-way [...] or stand-on [...] to vessels not under command or restricted in their ability to maneuver, sailing vessels or vessels engaged in fishing, ascending or descending a river [...]. Similarly, all vessels should avoid impeding the safe passage of a vessel constrained by her draft [...], navigating a narrow channel [...], or traffic separation scheme [...]."

Additional Regulations

You will also want to also read up on the regulations for the Western Rivers and the Great Lakes, depending on where you will be sailing.

Collision Avoidance Tactics

There are several things that you should be doing any time you are on the water, which will make a collision with another ship less likely. They include the following.

  • Be aware of the rules for your ship and location. The weather conditions and sight ability does not come into play in determining who is given right of way.
  • The greatest cause of accidents is not having a look-out. It is expected that all sailboats will have someone looking and listening at all times for the presence of other boats in the area.
  • Traveling at a speed that is within safety parameters will help to alleviate some of the risks of collision. You should be taking every aspect of your location and ship condition into account when determining the safest speed of travel.
  • Take action the moment you see the other ship to avoid giving out wrong signals or creating an instance of close-call avoidance. The sooner you take the necessary effort to prevent the other boat, the safer everyone will be.

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I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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Boating Rules of the Road - Navigation rules Collision Regulations - Rules of priority

  • Table of Contents
  • Rules of the Road - Navigation rules - Right of way

Right of way Rules for Boaters

The  Collision Regulations  stipulate that in all pleasure craft and vessels, someone  must maintain a proper lookout , at all times, for other vessels or pleasure crafts in order to  reduce the chance of a collision between two or more pleasure crafts. At all times the pleasure craft’s operator must have a clear view of the waterways that he/she is navigating on. It is up to the operator of a pleasure craft to know and apply the International Regulations for preventing collisions at sea, and the Canadian modifications upon the high seas, and in all waterways connected therein, which are navigable by vessels.

Following a collision between two boats, make certain everyone is accounted for and check for injuries. Ensure that passengers and crew members are wearing a PFD. The Small Vessel Regulations require that certain vessels carry an emergency kit. Keep the proper equipment and supplies onboard to stop hull leaks and make minor on-water repairs.

If you are involved in an accident:

  • You are required to stop and give assistance to other persons involved. You must give aid to the extent you can do so without endangering yourself or your passengers.
  • You are also required to give your name and address and the number of your vessel, in writing, to the owner of any property damaged in the accident.

What does it mean to be the stand-on vessel?

The stand-on vessel should maintain its course and speed. The give-away vessel, may however take action to avoid collision if it is clear that the vessel which should be keeping out of the way is not taking appropriate action.

Stand-on vessel - Give-way vessel

What does it mean to be the give-way vessel?

The give-way vessel  should keep out of the way of a stand-on vessel, so far as is possible, take early and substantial action to keep well clear.

Which action should be taken when overtaking another vessel?

A vessel overtaking an other vessel shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.  When a vessel is in any doubt as to whether she is overtaking another, she shall assume that this is the case and act accordingly.

Any alteration of course and/or speed to avoid collision must be important (noticable) enough to be easily seen by another vessel observing by sight or radar;  a succession of small changes of course and/or speed, should be avoided.

Action taken to avoid collision with another vessel shall be to result in passing at a safe distance. This action will be taken in such a manner to be effective and safe, until the time that the other vessel is finally past and clear.

If necessary, a vessel shall reduce her speed to avoid collision with an other vessel.

Overtaking another vessel

What are the actions between two power-driven vessels approaching in a crossing situation?

When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her own   starboard side   shall keep out of the way  and shall, if such are the circumstances, avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel.

The operator of a powerboat should maintain his course when   being approached on his port side   by another powerboat.

vessels approaching in a crossing situation

What should the operators of two powered vessels do that approach each other in a head-on situation?

In a meeting situation neither vessel is the stand-on vessel. It is generally accepted that you should alter course to starboard and pass port-to-port.

what should the operators of two powered vessels do that approach each other in a head on situation?

Responsibility between vessels Rules of priority

Newcomers to boating should familiarize themselves with the various types of vessels they may come across on the water to ensure they take the appropriate actions and avoid potential collisions.

When navigating, it's crucial for new boaters to understand which vessels have the right of way. It's important for all motorized boats and sailboats measuring under 20 meters in length to give way to larger, less agile vessels.  

A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a vessel not under command.

A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a vessel not under command.

A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre.

A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre.

A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a fishing boat hauling its nets.

A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a fishing boat hauling its nets.

A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a sailboat.

  A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a sailboat.

A sailboat underway shall keep out of the way of:

  • a vessel not under command;
  • a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre;
  • a fishing boat hauling its nets

A fishing boat when underway shall, so far as possible, keep out of the way of:

  • a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre.

Make sure your boat is always operated at a safe speed to allow for quick and effective maneuvering to prevent collisions and come to a stop within a safe distance given the circumstances.

When navigating Canadian waters such as roadsteads, harbors, rivers, lakes, or inland waterways, exercise caution when passing another vessel or any work area like a dredge, tow, grounded vessel, or wreck.

Maintain a speed that won't disrupt the vessel or work being passed and adhere to any relevant Notices to Mariners or Notices to Shipping.

A general speed limit of 10 km/h within 30 meters of the shore applies to all power-driven vessels in specific regions, unless the river is narrow, or the vessel is in canals or marked channels, or a different speed limit is in effect.

Restricted Visibility

In conditions of restricted visibility such as fog, mist, rainstorms, or falling snow, vessels must navigate at a safe speed appropriate to the circumstances. Power-driven vessels should be prepared to maneuver promptly, while operators must reduce speed upon hearing fog signals, being in close proximity to another vessel, or detecting them on radar. Compliance with these rules is crucial to avoiding collisions and ensuring safe navigation.  

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Close Call: Boats Collide

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The skipper of a 35-foot sailboat is lucky to be alive after a 37-foot charter fishing boat struck his boat at speed.

Commercial vessel and sailboat collision

Amazingly, no one was seriously injured in this collision. (Photo: Maryland Department of Natural Resources)

If you subscribe to any online boating forums or social media, there's a good chance you came across a startling photograph of a powerboat sitting atop a sailboat. According to reports, a J/105 sailboat was involved in a collision with fishing boat on the Chesapeake Bay on August 17, 2018.

The sailboat Levitation , with skipper Michael Andorsky, a 74-year-old retired pediatrician, and a friend, were struck by The Hunter , a charter fishing vessel with seven people aboard. Somehow, no one was seriously hurt in the collision.

Andorsky told the local newspaper, the Capital Gazette , that even when the powerboat was "way off in the distance," he could see that they were probably on a collision course. "I'm waving at the guy, yelling, and all of a sudden, his boat was sitting on top of our boat," Andorsky told the newspaper . He believes that luck played a part, and surmised that had the powerboat stuck closer to the stern of the sailboat, where he and his friend were sitting, they would have most likely been killed.

The U.S. Coast Guard has taken over the investigation from the state marine police and has not determined which boat was at fault or whether alcohol or excessive speed were factors in the collision.

Weather reports indicated about 12 knots of breeze with conditions clear with approximately 10 miles of visibility at the time of the collision.

According to statements made by Andorsky, had the Levitation not been heeling to starboard when the powerboat stuck, the sailboat could have been cut in half. After the seven people were evacuated from the fishing boat, it reportedly slid back into the water. Both boats remained afloat after the incident and were towed back to port.

This collision, one of many that happen each year, is another stark reminder that keeping a proper lookout and understanding the rules of the road are important for all boaters.

Here's a quick refresher on the right of way rules .

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Chesapeake Bay Magazine

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The Best of the Bay

SCAN for Trouble: How to Avoid a Multi-Boat Crash

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

John Page Williams is an award-winning boating writer and longtime Chesapeake Bay Magazine contributor. Here, he offers insight into the safe boating habits you can practice to help avoid an on-water collision.

Last Friday saw a spectacular boat collision on crowded waters near Thomas Point Light, south of Annapolis.  A 37’ fishing charter boat apparently collided with a 34’ sloop under sail.  Fortunately, amazingly, no one was seriously hurt. Social media lit up, of course, with much speculation about causes, which are under investigation and may not prove as obvious as they might appear.  Whatever the case, there are lessons to be learned for ALL of us who take to the Chesapeake in boats large and small.

First, consider the old saying, “There but for the Grace of God go I.” Anyone who says he or she hasn’t had a close scrape in a car or boat is not being truthful.  All of us have had momentary lapses of attention that led to narrow escapes. Those accidental lapses are, unfortunately, built into the human condition.  But we can minimize those mistakes by learning from accidents like this one.

The photo reminded me of a safety exercise taken last year with the BoatUS Foundation and the National Safe Boating Council called SCAN: Search, Concentrate, Analyze, Negotiate.  It’s a simple system to anticipate problems while piloting a boat, any boat, anywhere, any time.  Here’s a summary from the Council:

Search the area all around your craft. This is a 360-degree examination of everything on the water around your boat. Distances away will close or open depending on your speed or the speed of the observed boat or object. The faster you are operating, the farther out you will need to search.  Note: Since boats to starboard have the right-of-way, begin your search 120 degrees to that side and swing your eyes carefully forward, ahead, and to port.  Repeat. And repeat…

Concentrate on what you are seeing with your eyes and on your electronics. Is it a boat? What type? What is it doing? What is its relative speed? Is it a stationary object? Drifting or anchored? These are questions you must consider while you look at the various observed boats or objects.

Analyze what you are watching. Is it closing in on your position or going away from you? Remember, if the object you are observing is at a constant bearing with decreasing range (you are getting closer to it and its relative position to you is not changing), it is on a collision course.

Negotiate What are you going to do? Slow down, turn away from the boat or object, and head in a different direction? Remember the Navigation Rules. Know the proper action to take while meeting head-on, crossing or overtaking another boat. Make your adjustments obvious.

Sound simple?  Common-sense? You bet!  And it’s effective. Try it.  Now.  There’s lots of great Bay boating left for us in 2018.  Make sure your social media posts are happy ones.

Want to know more about SCAN?  Check these two links:

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Malaysia’s appetite for oil and gas puts it on collision course with China

As reserves closer to shore run dry, Malaysia is venturing farther into disputed waters of the South China Sea claimed and patrolled by China.

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

BINTULU, Malaysia — In the open sea off the coast of Malaysian Borneo, industrial rigs extract massive amounts of oil and gas that fuel the economy of Malaysia.

Slightly beyond that, in waters Malaysia also considers its own, Chinese coast guard vessels and maritime militia boats maintain a near-constant presence, say Malaysian officials. For 10 years, their country has done little to contest them.

But Malaysia is running out of oil and gas close to shore. Increasingly, it has to venture farther out to sea, raising the likelihood of direct confrontation with Chinese forces in the South China Sea.

As tensions rise throughout the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest and most contested bodies of water, energy demands are drawing Malaysia deeper into the fray and testing the country’s long-standing reluctance to antagonize China, according to interviews with more than two dozen government officials, diplomats, oil and gas executives and analysts in Malaysia.

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Some of Asia’s biggest oil and gas reserves lie under the seabed of these disputed waters, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Since 2021, Malaysia’s state-owned energy company, Petronas, has awarded several dozen new permits for companies like Shell and TotalEnergies to explore new deposits here, many in so-called “deepwater” clusters more than 100 nautical miles from shore but still within the boundaries of what Malaysia considers its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

These developments are teeing up more confrontations with China, warn energy and security analysts. Already, federal and provincial officials in Malaysia have been beefing up military deployments around the industrial port town of Bintulu in the state of Sarawak, where much of the country’s oil and gas industry is based, and Malaysia has been increasing military cooperation with the United States, particularly on maritime security. For the first time later this year, a bilateral army exercise known as Keris Strike that Malaysia conducts annually with the United States will be held on Borneo, said a U.S. State Department official.

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

Ship traffic

China’s

(INDONESIA)

Kuala Lumpur

Scale varies in this perspective; Distance from Bintulu

to Singapore is 650 miles. Ship routes via World Bank.

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

Scale varies in this perspective; Distance from Bintulu to Singapore

is approximately 650 miles. Shipping routes source via World Bank.

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

10-dash line

China’s maritime claims

Shipping routes

source: World Bank

Scale varies in this perspective; Distance from

Singapore to Bintulu is approximately 650 miles.

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

China’s maritime

At least since 2020, China has been harassing Malaysian drilling rigs and survey vessels, leading to standoffs that have lasted months, according to satellite imagery and data that track ship movements. For years, Malaysia’s response has been muted — a calculation shaped by reliance on Chinese investment and the relative weakness of the Malaysian military, said Malaysian security analysts and defense officials. Unlike the Philippines or Vietnam, Malaysia rarely publicizes Chinese intrusions into its EEZ, which extends 200 nautical miles off the coast, and withholds how often these incidents occur from journalists and academics.

In an exclusive interview, the director general of Malaysia’s National Security Council dismissed concerns of Chinese harassment even as he acknowledged that Chinese vessels had been patrolling Malaysian waters nearly nonstop.

“Obviously, we prefer for Chinese assets not to be in our waters,” said Nushirwan bin Zainal Abidin, who was ambassador to China from 2019 to 2023. But there’s no need, he added, for the dispute to “color” Malaysia’s broader relationship with its largest trading partner. “We can let sleeping dogs lie,” Nushirwan said.

Despite objections from countries in Southeast Asia, China has laid claim to almost the entire South China Sea, building artificial islands and deploying vessels to enforce what it calls the “10-dash line,” delimiting on maps the boundaries of what China says are its waters, which come within 25 nautical miles of the Malaysian coast.

While much attention in recent months has been paid to China’s intensifying encounters in contested waters with Filipino fishermen and coast guard, tensions stirring farther south, where the world’s biggest oil and gas companies have deeper interests, have gained far less notice. Asked about Malaysia’s claims of Chinese incursions, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Chinese vessels have been conducting “normal navigation and patrol activities” in areas under its jurisdiction.

Trouble in the South China Sea

Malaysia has for decades sought to “decouple” the South China Sea dispute from trade and investment with China, said a high-ranking Malaysian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he had not been authorized to address the issue.

But the country’s need for offshore oil and gas is starting to upset this delicate balancing act, the official said. He noted that Chinese coast guard vessels have repeatedly disrupted operations at the Kasawari gas field, which contains an estimated 3 trillion cubic feet of gas and where Malaysia has recently built its biggest offshore platform. “For what’s happening at Kasawari, I don’t have a solution,” the official said. “Right now, no one does.”

Venturing into deeper waters

In the 1970s, before Shell discovered large deposits of oil and gas off the coast, Bintulu was a small fishing village with a single stretch of road connecting a mosque to a market. Today, it’s a throbbing hub of industry, anchored by a 682-acre processing facility that produces 30 million tons of liquefied natural gas per year. In 2023, Malaysia was the world’s fifth-largest exporter of LNG, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Malaysia has relied on these resources to drive growth for decades, deriving 20 percent of its gross domestic product from oil and gas. But several years ago, industry analysts warned that the country’s era of “easy exploration” was ending. Oil and gas found in shallow waters, meaning at depths less than 1,000 feet, were running out. Companies knew there were more deposits remaining, said San Naing, a senior oil and gas analyst at BMI, a market research firm. “They just had to go farther out.”

Nearly 60 percent of Malaysia’s gas reserves are located off the state of Sarawak, says the country’s energy regulator. Starting in 2020, Petronas ramped up exploration. Two years later, having reported a string of new discoveries, the company awarded 12 new licensing contracts to energy conglomerates looking to operate in Malaysia, the most since 2009.

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

Malaysia has harnessed offshore oil and gas for decades but began markedly increasing

exploration in waters further offshore starting in 2021.

Seven islands occupied

by China in the Spratly

Island chain.

Malaysia EEZ boundary

oil and gas

PHILIPPINES

Oil and gas blocks

licensed for exploration

by Malaysia in the

last three years

Source: Petronas and MarineRegions.org

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

Malaysia has harnessed offshore oil and gas for

decades but began markedly increasing exploration

in waters further offshore starting in 2021.

South China

Malaysia Exclusive Economic

Zone (EEZ) boundary

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

Malaysia has harnessed offshore oil and gas

for decades but began markedly increasing

exploration in waters further offshore since

starting in 2021.

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

Malaysia has harnessed offshore oil and gas for decades but began markedly

increasing exploration in waters further offshore starting in 2021.

Seven islands occupied by China

within the Spratly Island chain

Malaysia’s

Exclusive Economic

Petronas executives say this enthusiasm is a sign of “investor confidence.” But in private, investors have been fretting over the risks of operating in the South China Sea, said a veteran oil and gas analyst who researches Malaysia and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect business interests. “What happens when the Chinese boats turn up? That’s always front of mind,” said the analyst.

In 2018, after harassment by Chinese vessels, Vietnam called off a major oil project midway through construction, leaving the companies involved with an estimated $200 million in losses. That incident was a “shock to the industry” and drove companies to reconsider investments in the South China Sea, said the analyst. Malaysia’s new discoveries are encouraging companies to return. But the risks now are arguably higher than ever.

A handful of Chinese vessels patrol the waters at Luconia Shoals, about 60 nautical miles off the Malaysian coast, near major gas fields like Kasawari. But a much bigger fleet of hundreds of Chinese coast guard ships and maritime militia are based farther north, near the Spratly Islands, where Petronas has designated new clusters for oil and gas exploration. The closer Malaysia’s energy projects come to the Spratlys, the greater the likelihood of confronting the Chinese, said Harrison Prétat, deputy director at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In recent months, Chinese officials have said pointedly that the exploration of resources in the South China Sea “should not undermine China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”

Petronas rejected requests for interviews and did not respond to inquiries about the South China Sea. But last year, after Beijing released a new map of the waterway that expanded Chinese claims, Petronas’ chief executive, Tengku Muhammad Taufik Aziz, made an unusually strong statement of objection. Extracting offshore oil and gas is within Malaysia’s sovereign rights, he said. “Petronas,” he added, “will very vigorously defend Malaysia’s rights.”

The U.S. government has rejected China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea but has not formally endorsed Malaysia’s claims.

A ‘fundamental rethinking’

Three years ago, a fleet of 16 Chinese military planes conducting an exercise over the South China Sea entered Malaysian airspace, said Malaysian officials. The incursion elicited rare rebuke from the Malaysian air force, which called it a threat to national security, and prompted the Malaysian minister of foreign affairs to summon the Chinese ambassador. Writing for a think tank , a trio of Malaysian scholars said the incident had “sparked fundamental rethinking within the Malaysian establishment about the country’s China policy.”

Chinese officials, however, denied that its planes had ever entered foreign airspace. A Chinese state-run think tank, the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said military aircraft were free to fly over the airspace of the South China Sea since its boundaries were “unclear.”

By the end of 2021, Malaysia had announced that a new air base would be built near Bintulu. Soon after, an army regiment from a neighboring city was moved in and last year, defense officials said they had worked out a plan to establish a new naval base. Speaking in Parliament, Defense Minister Seri Mohamad Hasan said Malaysia’s oil and gas would be protected “at any cost.”

Since 2021, Malaysia has also been increasing defense spending and strengthening military cooperation with the United States. Malaysia has received drones, communication equipment and surveillance programs, including long-range radar systems, installed on Borneo, to “monitor the sovereignty of airspace over the coastlines,” officials say. Later this year, Malaysia is set to get a decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard cutter and hold the annual Keris Strike military exercises with the U.S. on Borneo, according to the State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private negotiations.

Little of this has been highlighted by Malaysia. It is eager to avoid becoming “entangled” in the geopolitical contest between the United States and China, said the high-ranking Malaysian official.

He said he presumes that China “sees” everything happening in the South China Sea. “The question is will they see what we’re doing and allow it.”

Christian Shepherd in Taipei, Taiwan and Desmond Davidson in Kuching, Malaysia contributed to this report. Maps by Laris Karklis .

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

sailboat on a collision course with a fishing boat

Chinese coast guard shadows Filipino activists sailing toward disputed shoal

M ANILA, Philippines (AP) — Chinese coast guard ships shadowed a group of Filipino activists and fishermen sailing on wooden boats towards toward a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, which Beijing has fiercely guarded from what it regards as intruders.

The Philippine coast guard deployed three patrol ships and a light plane to keep watch from a distance on the group of about 100 people, who set off from western Zambales province to assert Manila’s sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal and surrounding waters. Dozens of journalists joined the three-day voyage.

The navy also dispatched a ship to help keep an eye on the participants.

The four wooden boats carrying the Filipinos were still far from the shoal when at least two Chinese coast guard ships began shadowing them at nightfall, said Emman Hizon, one of the organizers, adding that the participants remained in high spirits and would not turn back.

Some chanted “Atin Ito” — the name of the group, which means “This is ours” in Tagalog — repeatedly after they spotted the Chinese coast guard ships.

“Atin Ito contingent will continue with its course,” Hizon said

“Our boats are exercising evasive maneuvers while the Philippine coast guard continues to maintain its close distance to the convoy to thwart any further attempt from Chinese coast guard vessels,” Hizon said

The convoy was expected to reach the vicinity of the shoal Thursday morning, the organizers said, adding they would seek to avoid confrontations but were ready for any contingencies. The group plans to lay down symbolic territorial buoys and provide food packs and fuel to Filipino fishermen in the high seas near the shoal.

“Our mission is peaceful, based on international law and aimed at asserting our sovereign rights,” said Rafaela David, a lead organizer. “We will sail with determination, not provocation, to civilianize the region and safeguard our territorial integrity.”

In December, the group mounted an expedition to another disputed shoal but cut the trip short after being tailed by a Chinese ship.

China effectively seized the Scarborough Shoal, a triangle-shaped atoll with a vast fishing lagoon ringed by mostly submerged coral outcrops, by surrounding it with its coast guard ships after a tense 2012 standoff with Philippine government ships.

Angered by China’s action, the Philippine government brought the disputes to international arbitration in 2013 and largely won with a tribunal in The Hague ruling three years later that China’s expansive claims based on historical grounds in the busy seaway were invalid under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The ruling declared the Scarborough Shoal a traditional fishing area for Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen. In the past, fishermen have anchored in the shoal to avoid huge waves in the high seas in stormy weather.

China refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected the outcome and continues to defy it.

Two weeks ago, Chinese coast guard and suspected militia ships used water cannons on Philippine coast guard and fisheries ships patrolling the Scarborough Shoal, damaging both vessels.

The Philippines condemned the Chinese coast guard’s action on the shoal, which lies in the Southeast Asian nation’s internationally recognized exclusive economic zone. The Chinese coast guard said it took a “necessary measure” after the Philippine ships “violated China’s sovereignty."

In addition to the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have also been involved in the territorial disputes .

Chinese coast guard ships had also ventured into waters close to Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia in the past, sparking tensions and protests, but the Southeast Asian nations with considerable economic ties with China have not been as aggressively critical against Beijing's increasingly assertive actions.

The Philippines has released videos of its territorial faceoffs with China and invited journalists to witness the hostilities in the high seas in a strategy to gain international support , sparking a word war with Beijing.

The increasing frequency of the skirmishes between the Philippines and China has led to minor collisions, injured Filipino navy personnel and damaged supply boats in recent months. It has sparked fears the territorial disputes could degenerate into an armed conflict between China and the United States , a longtime treaty ally of the Philippines.

Follow AP's Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

In this photo provided by the Philippine Coast Guard, fishing boats carrying activists and volunteers belonging to a nongovernment coalition called Atin Ito, Tagalog for This is Ours, pass by waters off Palauig Point, Zambales province, northwestern Philippines as they head towards Scarborough Shoal on Wednesday May 15, 2024. A flotilla of about 100 mostly small fishing boats led by Filipino activists sailed Wednesday to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, where Beijing's coast guard and suspected militia ships have used powerful water cannons to ward off what they regard as intruders. (Philippine Coast Guard via AP)

COMMENTS

  1. Collision Courses

    For many sailors, sailing on a collision course with another vessel is the most stressful event of an afternoon on the water. Practice and experience will overcome the stress, but along the way there may be a few tense moments that hold the potential for an accident. ... Give fishing boats a wide berth and, if possible, steer across their bows ...

  2. Collision Avoidance Confusion

    Note that "true course" can allow the leeward boat to force the windward boat to turn or tack away. This is definitely not behavior permitted under the COLREGs. Rule 13 | Tacking. After a boat passes head to wind, she shall keep clear of other boats until she is on a close-hauled course. During that time, Rules 10, 11, and 12 do not apply.

  3. Rules of the Road : BoatUS Foundation

    Fishing vessels engaged in fishing, with gear deployed; Sailing vessels; Power driven vessels; ... a collision situation. Change course or reduce speed, even if you are the stand-on vessel. ... A sailboat with motor running is defined as a motor boat. The "pecking order" between sailing vessels is more complex. When two sailing are approaching ...

  4. Rules of the Road

    When you have a boat in your green sector, you must take early and substantial action to avoid collision. Exceptions. There are several exceptions to this rule. The operator of a pleasure craft of less than 20m in length, or a pleasure sailing craft, shall not impede the passage of vessels which can navigate safely only within a narrow channel.

  5. Safety Tips: How to Navigate when a Sailboat Crosses Paths with a PWC

    5. Always maintain a safe distance from other boats, ensuring proper clearance to prevent any collisions. 6. Adhere to right-of-way rules and yield to other boats when necessary, including giving way to boats on your starboard side and avoiding crossing paths with other boats whenever possible.

  6. Boating Right of Way Rules

    Sailing Right of Way. When two boats that are both under sail meet, the following rules apply: The boat on a starboard tack has the right of way—the wind coming over the starboard rail. When two vessels are on the same tack (the wind is coming from the same side), the leeward boat (downwind) has the right of way over the windward boat (that ...

  7. Importance of Right of Way Rules for Boating

    An important note — a sailboat must be "under sail" to qualify for the right of way over power-driven vessels. ... The definition of a "collision course" is when the bearing from your boat to another isn't changing, while the distance between your two boats is shrinking. ... A Boat Engaged in Fishing. When a boat has commercial ...

  8. Boat Collision Liability

    When approaching another boat head on, both boats are supposed to turn to starboard — Rule 14 (a) — to avoid a collision. The turn must be obvious, so that the other skipper clearly sees your boat's port side. In a crowded channel or fairway, boats should keep to the right side of the channel, just like on a highway.

  9. Anatomy Of A Boat Collision

    The collision: Two sailboats on San Francisco Bay are approaching each other, bow-to-bow, on a collision course. Both boats are under power, each traveling at 4 to 5 knots, and closing quickly. A few seconds before impact, the skipper of the larger boat, a 40-footer, throws the helm hard over to starboard and yells at the skipper of the smaller ...

  10. The give-way hierarchy

    Sailing boat hierarchy. Port tack gives way to starboard tack. If on the same tack, the windward boat gives way. If it is unclear to a sailing boat on port tack which tack another sailing boat to windward is on, then the boat on port tack must give way. Power boat hierarchy. If two power boats are heading towards each other, both boats should ...

  11. Sailing Collision Regulations & Right of Way Rules

    8. Right of Way with Power-Driven Vessels. Whenever you run into the situation of having to decide who has the right of way when you're in a sailboat and the other vessel is a powerboat, you are generally the stand-on vessel. This can depend on the size of the power-driven vessel and the local rules, but this is generally the case.

  12. Boating Right of Way Rules Explained

    Boating definitions to understand the right of way rules. In every encounter on the water, one boat is the give-way vessel, while another is the stand-on vessel. The give-way vessel must keep out of the way of the other vessel. Simultaneously, the give-way vessel needs to take action early enough, substantially enough, and safely enough so that ...

  13. Collision Regulations & Rules of the Road

    Crossing on a collision course: When on a collision course - the relative direction of the other boat will appear not to change - boat A on the left must give-way or keep clear of boat B. At night, A will see B's red light; B will see A's green light. To avoid collision, A must turn right to pass behind B, slow down, stop or reverse.

  14. Boat Navigation and Right of Way

    Determining the Risk of Collision. As a boat operator, you are required to use every means possible to identify the risk of collision. ... such as an anchored boat or a broken-down boat. A commercial fishing boat. A sailboat (unless it's overtaking your boat, in which case you would maintain your speed and course as the stand-on craft ...

  15. PDF Rules of the Road for Sailboats

    Any boat lower on the list must give way to boats higher on the list: A disabled boat A boat that is difficult to maneuver, like a dredge or barge in tow A boat whose maneuverability is restricted by size or draft, like a freighter A boat engaged in commercial fishing, like a trawler A boat being rowed A sailboat

  16. Vessel crossing situations

    When two power driven boats are approaching at right angles or nearly so, and risk of collision exists, the boat on the right is the stand-on vessel, has the right of way and must hold its course and speed. The other boat, the give-way vessel, shall maneuver to keep clear of the stand-on vessel and shall pass it by its stern. If necessary, slow, stop or reverse until the stand-on vessel is clear.

  17. Who Has the Right of Way When Sailing?

    Sailboats have right of way over powerboats in almost all cases. The exception being when the sailboat is overtaking the powerboat and certain unique situations. If two boats are crossing, then the one on the starboard side has the right of way. In situations where it is dark, you will be able to see a red light moving across your horizon to ...

  18. Boating Rules of the Road

    The Collision Regulations stipulate that in all pleasure craft and vessels, someone must maintain a proper lookout, at all times, for other vessels or pleasure crafts in order to reduce the chance of a collision between two or more pleasure crafts. At all times the pleasure craft's operator must have a clear view of the waterways that he/she is navigating on.

  19. Close Call: Boats Collide

    According to reports, a J/105 sailboat was involved in a collision with fishing boat on the Chesapeake Bay on August 17, 2018. The sailboat Levitation, with skipper Michael Andorsky, a 74-year-old retired pediatrician, and a friend, were struck by The Hunter, a charter fishing vessel with seven people aboard. Somehow, no one was seriously hurt ...

  20. Right-of-Way Rules for Boating BOATsmart! Knowledgebase

    Boating Collision Regulations. ... Sport fishing boats and waterski boats are considered maneuverable craft and operators of these must follow the same rules as all pleasure boats; Approaching Non-Powered Boats. When approaching a non-powered craft, such as a sailboat or canoe, you are the give-way craft and do not have the right-of-way. You ...

  21. SCAN for Trouble: How to Avoid a Multi-Boat Crash

    Here, he offers insight into the safe boating habits you can practice to help avoid an on-water collision. Last Friday saw a spectacular boat collision on crowded waters near Thomas Point Light, south of Annapolis. A 37' fishing charter boat apparently collided with a 34' sloop under sail. Fortunately, amazingly, no one was seriously hurt.

  22. A crash course in sailing aboard a millennial yacht on the Han

    Hyun, who wears his hair in a ponytail and dons a bright blue polo with the Sailing Paradise logo on top of long sun-protective sleeves, waves me over across the connecting bridge with a cheery hello.

  23. PDF New Jersey State Police Boating Safety Manual

    proved boating safety course prior to the restoration of their privilege. PERSONAL WATERCRAFT For the purpose of this act, "Personal Watercraft" means a power vessel less than sixteen feet long which: a. Is designed to be operated from a sitting, standing or kneeling position; b. Is propelled by a water-jet pump or other machinery; as its pri-

  24. Navigation and Right of Way

    The Coast Guard asks all boaters to recognize that the risk of collision is still possible even if a boat changes direction, especially if it is a large boat, a tow boat or a boat at close range. Port: If a power-driven boat approaches your boat from the port sector, maintain your course and speed with caution.

  25. Captain and Mate Arrested After Ship Collides with Fishing Boat off Iceland

    Icelandic officials are confirming that a court has ordered the captain and second mate of a cargo ship that was sailing off the southern coast held after a suspected collision with a fishing boat ...

  26. Malaysia's appetite for oil and gas puts it on collision course with China

    As reserves closer to shore run dry, Malaysia is venturing farther into disputed waters of the South China Sea claimed and patrolled by China. By Rebecca Tan. May 11, 2024 at 6:00 a.m. EDT. The ...

  27. Chinese coast guard shadows Filipino activists sailing toward ...

    A flotilla of about 100 mostly small fishing boats led by Filipino activists sailed Wednesday, May 15, 2024 to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, where Beijing's coast guard and suspected ...